The UAE retained its position in the Henley Passport Index, with its passport ranked as the 15th-strongest globally. This makes it the only Arab country in the top 20 in 2021.
UAE passport holders have visa-free access to 175 countries, according to the third-quarter results released on Tuesday. The country's ranking places it in a tie with Monaco and just ahead of Bulgaria, Chile and Romania tied in 16th, Croatia in 17th and Hong Kong in 18th place.
Japan remained the country with world's most powerful passport in 2021, with Japanese citizens able to access 193 destinations around the world visa-free, as the country prepares to host the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics within weeks amid a ‘quasi’ state of emergency.
Singapore remains in second place, trailing Japan with a visa-free score of 192, while Germany and South Korea remain tied in third place as passport holders of each nation can enter 191 locations.
"While the dominance of European passports in the top ten has been a given for most of the index’s 16-year history, the pre-eminence of three Asian states — Japan, Singapore, and South Korea — has become the new normal," the report said.
The Henley Passport Index assesses the travel documents based on how many countries citizens can access without a visa, using information from the International Air Transport Association.
The remaining top 10 spots are largely held by EU countries, including Finland, Italy, Luxembourg and Spain in fourth with access to 190 destinations, with Austria and Denmark coming in joint fifth, as nationals enjoy visa-free travel to 189 countries. France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden share sixth place.
The UK and the US currently share joint 7th-place on the index, following a steady decline since they held the top spot in 2014, with their passport holders theoretically able to access 187 destinations around the world.
"Under current travel bans, however, UK passport holders have suffered a dramatic drop of over 70 per cent in their travel freedom, currently able to access fewer than 60 destinations globally — a passport power equivalent to that of Uzbekistan on the index," the report said.
US passport holders have seen a 67 per cent decrease in their travel freedom, with access to just 61 destinations worldwide — a passport power equivalent to Rwanda’s on Henley's Passport Index.
While the UAE made it to the top 20 list, Kuwait dropped to 60th place, from 55th during the previous quarter, with visa-free travel to 96 destinations. Oman dropped to 70th, from 65th in the second quarter, with access to 80 destinations. Saudi Arabia came in at 71st in the third quarter, down from 66th.
The gap in travel freedom is now at its largest since the index began in 2006, highlighting the divergence in countries' access to Covid-19 vaccines, the report said. Japanese passport holders able to access 167 more destinations than citizens of Afghanistan, which sits at the bottom of the index. Its passport holders are able to visit only 26 destinations worldwide without acquiring a visa in advance.
While it is uncertain how long Covid-19-related travel restrictions will remain in place, it seems clear that global mobility will be seriously hampered throughout 2021, Christian Kaelin, chairman of Henley & Partners, said.
“In many countries, serious doubts have arisen as to the ability to handle a global crisis, with the subsequent embrace of more inward-looking priorities. Increasing isolationism and deglobalisation will no doubt have profound consequences, among them further damage to the world’s economy, a significant reduction in global mobility and restrictions on people’s freedom to make the best choices for their families and their businesses," Mr Kaelin said.
"It is clear that more than ever, people need to expand their residence and passport options.”