UAE’s Passport Strength Offers Lessons for Other GCC Nations on Scaling League Table

Armand Arton

The UAE passport is the most powerful in the world, according to The Passport Index. Emirati citizens now have access to nearly 84 percent of the world without the need to apply for a visa before travel. This freedom, however, is still not attainable for many people in the Arab world, to say nothing of those in other parts. The fact is, mobility is of extreme value and importance, for it allows people to access global markets and connect with diverse populations. Indeed, ease of mobility increasingly must be seen as both a driver and enabler — as well as a reflection — of economic prosperity.

Improving a country’s passport power has a very positive effect on citizens. A more powerful passport not only empowers citizens to travel the world, but it also offers them a better experience when doing so. Time wasted for visa applications and queues at border crossings become a thing of the past. And with increased mobility comes a greater respect their citizens enjoy when in transit.

But as important as all that is, the greater virtue in having a more powerful passport is that it makes the work of the business community much easier. While as yet there is no in-depth study that shows how visa-free travel actually helps promote business, a cursory look at the list of the top 10 ranks of The Passport index is instructive. The top tiers are inhabited by North American, European Union, and powerful Asia-Pacific economies — Singapore, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia. There is therefore a correlation between free mobility and economic strength. And it is of course notable in light of this correlation that the UAE should sit at the top of the league table.

But rising up the table doesn’t always happen automatically. It can sometimes require work to bring a nation’s national and economic strengths to the attention of others in the community of nations. The UAE, for one, has shown how diplomacy can yield substantial results. Initially, the UAE Passport Power Initiative aimed to bring the Emirati passport within the top five in the world by 2021. It has clearly surpassed its goal and in an accelerated manner.

And in this, there are lessons for others in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, for example, given the size of its economy and the economic liberalization program currently in train, ought to factor much higher in the league table than the 55th tier it currently occupies. The same could be said of Oman (53rd tier) and the rest of the GCC.

Thus, although the UAE became the first Arab country to capture the lead in the passport ranking, others can be inspired to take on a similar goal. They should start by setting a target and evaluating their ability to undertake a positive diplomatic approach.

In addition to scaling the league table, nations should also consider the quality of their standing. The Passport Index, for example, considers both a passport’s visa-free accessibility as well as the access it affords through visas-on-arrival. While the UAE passport sits at the top tier, Singapore and Germany’s passports, in the second tier, have greater visa-free, as opposed to visa-on-arrival, accessibility.

One hundred and thirteen countries offer UAE citizens visa-free entry, while 54 more offer visas-on-arrival. In contrast, 127 countries offer Singaporeans visa-free entry and 39 offer them visas-on-arrival; Germany’s numbers are 126 and 40, respectively. The UAE’s visa-free score places it between Croatia (115) and Monaco (109), both of which occupy the 11th tier.

What this shows is that moving up, and staying at the top, of the passport league table involves active diplomacy to bring a nation’s strength to the attention of others in the community of nations. Additionally, nations should also want to improve their visa-free scores against their visa-on-arrival score.

Armand Arton is the founder and president of Arton Capital, a Canadian advisory firm with offices in Dubai. Arton Capital issues The Passport Index.

AFP PHOTO/MARWAN NAAMANI