The 2018 Henley Passport Index, an annual ranking which lists the world's passports according to how many countries their holders can gain visa-free access to, has shown that those with UAE passports can now travel unimpeded to 161 countries around the world. This makes the UAE passport the 21st most powerful passport in the world, up from 38th last year. It currently sits on a par with Barbados and above Mexico, the Bahamas and Uruguay.
This year, UAE citizens have gained visa-free access to several new countries including Ireland, Canada and China and overall it has secured more new visa waivers this year than any other country. It has risen from 62nd place in 2006.
Most recently, and strengthening its position as the passport-power champion of the Middle East, the UAE signed a visa-waiver with Russia in July, which is due to come into effect in the coming months.
Commenting on the UAE's latest visa-waiver agreement, Ryan Cummings, director of Signal Risk, said that it is aimed at "strengthening bilateral relations between the UAE and another global superpower", following the visa-waiver signed with China earlier this year. Specifically, this latest agreement with Russia will help the UAE "lower its dependence on its hydrocarbon sector and continue its robust economic growth trajectory" by stimulating tourism and trade.
Tim Geschwindt, Analyst at S-RM Intelligence and Risk Consulting, says the agreement also speaks to Russia's shifting position within the international community: "The country is continuing to seek improved bilateral relations, as well as trade, investments, and tourism ties, with new partners. Russia's recent decision to grant visa-free travel access to not only Emiratis but also citizens of several other nations speaks to this effort. Russia's agreement with the UAE in particular is part of a foreign policy push to attract foreign investment into the country, especially from Emirati businesses and businesspeople."
In the top spot, the Japanese passport has overtaken that of Singapore to become the world's "most powerful", since it now offers visa-free travel - that is countries to which citizens can travel without a visa or gain visa on arrival - to 190 countries.
In third place are Germany, South Korea and France, and the UK and the US slid from fourth to fifth place, granting their citizens easy access to 186 destinations. In 2015, the US and the UK were top of the list.
Dr Christian Kalin, group chairman of Henley & Partners, a global citizenship and residency advisory firm, said: "The Henley Passport Index, which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), is an important tool for measuring not only the relative strength of the world's passports but also the extraordinary results that states can achieve when they work hand in hand with their global peers to build a more interconnected and collaborative world.
"China and the UAE exemplify this kind of progress, with both states among the highest overall climbers compared to 2017, purely as a result of the strong relationships they have built with partner countries around the world.”
Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, has said he wants the UAE passport to be among the world's top five by 2021.