A year ago, I reported on an apparent slump in the power of our new, dark blue, non-EU British passport. According to the Henley Index – a global ranking by a consultancy advising on residence, citizenship and visa issues – in 2010, it had been rated the single most powerful in the world, meaning we could visit more destinations without any form of authorisation issued than any other nation. By 2022, we had slipped to equal 13th place with only the sixth-highest score.
This year, however, Henley has just reported a slight bounce-back. It now gives the British passport the fourth-highest score, and it is in joint 12th place out of 199 nations surveyed, equal with Denmark, Ireland and the Netherlands. (At the top is Singapore, taking the spot that had been held by Japan since 2018, which is now equal fifth behind Germany, Italy and Spain.)
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So were the fears about post-Brexit travel hurdles misplaced? The Henley index measures only the simplest of metrics – whether we can visit a country as a tourist without obtaining any form of prior authorisation – but doesn’t reflect the other freedoms we have lost as a result of the withdrawal agreement. The fact that our visits to EU nations are limited to 90 days every six months, for example. Or that we can’t work there without a visa. If you, your children or grandchildren wanted to get a job in order to learn a language, or spend a season in a ski or holiday resort, this could clearly be a major issue, but it is not reflected in the index.
And if you truly value obstacle-free travel, there is some bad news on the horizon. Next year’s index is likely to look very different. At some point in 2024, the EU plans to introduce the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). Although the Government negotiated post-Brexit “visa-free” visits for British holidaymakers, ETIAS – a bit like the US ESTA – counts as a visa-waiver system. It will require all non-EU citizens to apply and pay for an electronic pass before travelling to the Schengen area (the border-free zone that includes the majority of member states, plus Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein). According to the EU, 30 countries will require ETIAS authorisation from British visitors. This pass, issued pretty much automatically, will be valid for three years.
It is designed to work with the EU’s new electronic Entry Exit System (EES), which was due to come in at the end of May this year and now seems unlikely to be ready until at least November. This will require us to upload fingerprints and other biometric data to a European-wide computer system so we can use the e-gates – and it will do away with the current need for passport stamping. Whether or not it will speed up the time needed to get through non-EU queues at passport control remains to be seen.
Either way, when it comes in, ETIAS seems certain to make a huge dent in the UK passport’s Henley rating, reducing the number of countries we can visit without prior authorisation by 30. In the context of the table as it is now, that would drop us down to about 50th place. In practice, we may not see it fall quite so far, because passports from lots of countries will be affected. According to a spokesman for Henley, the introduction of ETIAS will affect travellers from more than 60 nations.
Nevertheless, the power of the British passport will certainly be significantly diminished and we will sink a long way behind all those of other EU member states whose citizens will continue to be able to work, travel and live freely without needing to use the ETIAS. Henley says it will be modelling a more precise indication of the impact of the ETIAS when a more definite date is announced for the implementation. That is probably going to be towards the end of this year – if they can get the technology sorted.
Source: The Telegraph
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