July 11, 2014
Free movement is one fundamental human rights not only in one’s own country but also abroad. Visa restrictions play an important role in controlling the movement of foreign nationals across borders. They reflect also the relationships between individual nations as well the status of a country within the international community of nations. The main travel document is passport. Citizenship documented in passport regulates the level of free movement over borders; holder of one passport can travel relatively free around the globe while the choices of the holder of other passport are very limited. So passports can be ranked according to the visa-free access their holders.
Visa restrictions change according to the political situation at any given time. For example some 20 years ago citizens of Yugoslavia could travel relatively free, but the breakup wars changed situation completely. The “European perspective” is key concept for integrating western Balkans into EU. For ordinary people freedom of movement might be the main carrot after nearly 20 years of isolation.
My Passport Rank table below ranks passports according to how many countries it gives visa-free access. To table I have collected the Balkan countries and for comparison the best and the worst positions. I have also indicated the change during last two years describing to how many countries more the passport gives visa-free access compared to situation on 2012. As source I have used the data published in “The Henley Visa Restrictions Index”. (Source and more about H&P please visit in their homepage )
And here is my ”Passport Rank 2014: Balkans”:
Passport Rank 2014 – Balkans by Ari Rusila
|Rank||Passport of country||Visa free access to
|1||Finland, Sweden, UK||173||+3-4|
|4||Denmark, Germany, USA, Luxemburg||172||+3-6|
|8||Belgium, Italy, Netherlands||171||+3-4|
To travel from one country to other is a fundamental freedom restricted however more or less depending about which passport the traveler holds. Generally speaking the freedom of movement has increased a lot globally as well in Balkans. Apart that I would like to point out some trivia. The new Kosovo passport, first issued by the Kosovo Government in July 2008, is still one of the least useful travel documents ever designed. Passports for example from North Korea, Myanmar, Yemen and Syria are more valid than Kosovo passport as well one from the newest countries – South Sudan.
Some half of UN member states was fooled or pressured on for recognize Kosovo’s second declaration of independence, but Kosovo passport gives visa-free access only to less than 40 countries. On the other hand Taiwan ( also UN outsider) has diplomatic relations with 23 countries but its passport holders can travel visa free to 130 countries. In Europe only Pridnestrovie – aka Transdniestria aka Pridnestrovskaia Moldavskaia Respublica (PMR) – may be a country which passport has less use abroad than Kosovo passport as no country has recognised its independence. From the bright side now the majority of former Kosovo Serbs can have visa-free travel abroad as they are residing in Serbia because they could not return to their homes in Kosovo after ethnic cleansing made by Kosovo Albanians on 1999 and 2004. (My view about Kosovo in my article Captured Pseudo-State Kosovo )
Passport is not only travel document – it has also its wider political and business aspects. For example romania distributes its passports to its Moldovan neighbours (rank 138) so that they can travel easier e.g in EU. Russia (rank 75) gives easily passports to Ukrainians (rank 96) to make stronger ties with Russian-speaking population abroad. During Balkan wars it was also quite popular to give Bosnian passports to foreign Muslim-fighters or Jihadists (and later leading al Qaeda figures) for their support in civil war.
It is estimated that that every year, several thousand people spend a collective $2bn ( €1.5bn) to add a second, or even third, passport to their collection. Those with money can select from half a dozen countries offering a direct citizenship-by-investment route with no residency requirements. The cheapest deal for citizenship is on the tiny Caribbean island of Dominica (rank 83) where for an investment of $100,000 plus various fees, as well as an in-person interview on the island, citizenship can be bought. In better ranking Cyprus (rank 38) the costs are between €2-5 million depending program. Last year the government of Malta announced proposals to start selling citizenship of its nation to foreigners for €650,000, however after EU pressure applicants will now be required to spend at least a year in Malta in order to qualify. Several European Union countries – e.g UK, Spain, Belgium – or USA do not offer citizenship for purchase outright, but do offer residence permits to wealthy individuals; that include free movement within the Schengen area, in exchange for high fees and the requirement to invest in the country.
The passport rank shows also one peculiarity related to international aid and development. In Balkans besides Kosovo also Bosnia-Herzegovina together with Albania have the worst scores despite the fact that EU and international community have guided and supervised these regions towards “European standards” nearly twenty years with huge state- and capasity building measures and billions of bucks. So has EU failed with this task as those countries without outside supervision are getting visa-freedom earlier?
One could also conclude or claim that the EU is isolating three mainly Muslim European states/regions – Albania, BiH and Kosovo – and Turkey (rank 76, visa-free access to 94 countries) as some in the EU fear the presence of such a large, Muslim community inside traditionally Christian Europe. Of course EU denies political aspects and highlights only the technical ones but from Balkan perspective the impression can differ.Ari Rusila