Getting around in the world

The power of passports

In an index measuring the value of a nationality Europeans come out on top. But how can you even measure the power of passports? RUG professor Dimitry Kochenov and Henley & Partners worked together to find out.
Text by Valia Papadopoulou

For years, the Henley & Partners law firm has published a list ranking the value of passports: the more countries someone can visit without a visa, the more powerful the passport is.

RUG professor Dimitry Kochenov collaborated with Henley & Partners to improve their existing index. They created a new metric to assess the value of 161 nationalities
 based on both external and internal values.

Those values included travel and settlement freedom, economic growth, stability, peace and human development.

European nationalities were ranked as ‘Very High Quality’, with German citizenship receiving the highest ranking. The Netherlands had a high score as well.

Georgia was a surprise. Despite its low score, the country allows anyone to settle there, setting an example for a different way to conduct foreign policy.

Countries under non-democratic regimes or at war received the lowest ranking.

Reading time: 5 minutes (896 words)

Since 2006, Henley & Partners – a law firm specialising in residence and citizenship – has published the Visa Restrictions Index. The index ranked the strength of passports based upon how many countries a citizen could visit without a visa. The higher the number, the more powerful the passport.

But Kochenov felt that this system did not reflect reality. ‘I think it is absurd’, he explains over a coffee at Black and Bloom, his favourite café in town. ‘It doesn’t matter if you can visit 10 countries or 100 countries visa-free. For me, the question is not about how easily you can travel – because you can always get a tourist visa at least – but it is about what kind of countries you can visit.’

Kochenov, Chair of European Union Constitutional Law at the RUG, worked together with Henley & Partners to create a new method of measuring: the first Quality of Nationality Index (QNI) was published this summer and immediately grabbed headlines worldwide.

Collecting data

The new metric assessed external values (travel and settlement freedom) and internal values (economic growth, stability, peace and human development) of 161 nationalities and scores them on a scale from 0 to 100.

There was little existing information on the topic, so Kochenov started looking for data at the International Air Transport Association (IATA), a trade association of 265 airlines. ‘It is impossible to know the immigration laws of each and every country’, he says, so the IATA information was crucial to completing his research.

Kochenov mainly focused on how long travellers stayed in foreign countries: three months is the duration of a tourist visa, so he focused on where travellers remained in the country beyond that period of time. The next step was to confirm whether those people were legally protected against discrimination and, more importantly, if they had the right to work. With that information in hand, he began building a map of the value of each nationality.
‘This is the point when I started to get the bigger picture of the kind of value passports grant their holders, and that’s actually the academic value of the study’, he explains.

Free movement

So who has the most valuable passport? Although the whole EU performed well, it was German citizenship that received the highest ranking with a score of 83.1 per cent. Most European citizenships were ranked as ‘very high quality’, including the Netherlands, whose score was 80.3 per cent. ‘Due to the country’s high level of economic and human development, excellent education and healthcare systems, its peacefulness, and the remarkable degree of openness, the result was not surprising at all’, Kochenov says.

Top 20 European Countries

In an index measuring the value of a nationality in 2015 – co-created by RUG professor Dimitry Kochenov – these Europeans come out on top. Source: QN Index

That is because EU countries are actively working on improving economic strength, human development, life expectancy, education and quality of medical services. ‘European integration gives us work and settlement rights throughout the Union, boosting the external quality of nationality’, he says. In other words, countries with long life expectancy and educated residents that also allow other citizens to settle easily translate into very powerful nationalities. And because of the free movement agreements within the EU, each individual country scores higher.

Georgia came as a surprise, though. Despite its medium quality score of 27.8 per cent, it turns out to be the most open country in terms of allowing foreigners to settle and access the job market. ‘Although Georgians cannot enter many other countries – including the EU – without a visa, they allow virtually anyone in. The country is sending a message that we can conduct foreign policy differently in terms of migration expecting other countries to do the same. But unfortunately, we don’t see much change happening: the rest of the world did not reciprocate’, Kochenov says.

Divided world

Perhaps predictably, countries that are ruled by non-democratic regimes or are at war had the lowest rankings. ‘Countries like North Korea make it impossible even for its own people to cross the border, let alone to allow foreigners to stay or settle, as they are extremely nationalistic and hostile to foreigners’, Kochenov explains. ‘But on the other hand, why would someone want to settle in North Korea?’

Kochenov believes that understanding the value of nationality is vital, especially in light of the steadily rising number of people who leave their own country to settle elsewhere. ‘Imagine needing to apply for a work permit every year if you are moving from country to country. If someone’s life depends on that, it would probably lead to a miserable life. The more valuable someone’s citizenship is, the easier it will be for them to travel the world and live the life they wanted to’, he explains.

But it is the very value of EU citizenship that can actually lead to EU citizens failing to realise how good they have it. ‘People sometimes take the value of their citizenship for granted and assume that it is the same in other parts of the world as well’, Kochenov says. ‘Unfortunately, this is far from the truth: it’s not always that easy to settle in a foreign country unless your passport belongs to an extremely exclusive club of elite nationalities.’