Passport power

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak - The Philippine Star

Japan became the latest country to open its doors after roughly two and half years of closed borders. According to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the move to relax borders is to entice tourists, revitalize its massive tourism sector, and boost the government and local businesses. This is to help Japan be at par with the United States.

The move comes after the yen slid to its lowest against the US dollar in the past six months. Before this announcement, Japan was one of the last remaining strictest countries in terms of COVID-19 border restrictions. The country has allowed visitors since June, but they had to be part of authorized package tours.

Starting in October, this will no longer be the case. Japan is also lifting the daily cap of arrivals to allow more visitors to enter daily. They are also planning to give discounts to travelers, offer theme park incentive packages, and more.

Similar programs have been launched in other countries to help boost tourism and the economy, encourage local activities and entice international travelers. Taiwan and Hong Kong also recently relaxed their entry rules. Taiwan dropped quarantine requirements, and Hong Kong has allowed stay-at-home quarantine since the end of September.

What does this mean for Filipinos? Certain freedoms, for sure. But a lot of business as usual travel-wise too. The option to travel is absolutely back. Many Filipinos have been traveling these past several months since restrictions began to ease. In what many call “revenge travel,” – people are flocking back into the world after two years of essentially being stuck at home.

In the country, the local tourism industry is similarly trying to entice local travel, spending, and investing in the local industry by appealing to Filipino tourists and international travellers. Many Filipino families have traveled around the country, while others opted to go abroad and see friends and family in other parts of the world.

When the no-visa news of Japan hit, many Filipinos got excited because they initially thought it meant we would no longer need a visa to travel to Japan. Unfortunately, that was only for select countries, and the Philippines is not on the list. For the Philippines, the visa requirement remains.

An official of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said last month that they want to work on visa-free entry for Japan. While they are hoping to pursue this, for now, Filipinos still need a visa to enter the country. At least it’s possible to apply for a visa without being part of a tour.

The same is true for certain parts of South Korea, too. Recently, the South Korean Embassy put a cap on the number of visa applications it can accept in a day due to high volume demand. This is due, no doubt, to the upcoming BTS concert in Busan this October. Many Filipinos, and nationals from other countries, are traveling to Busan to see the global superstars perform as part of Busan’s bid to host the World Expo 2030. The K-pop sensation is a fantastic promotion choice as international travelers flock to see them. The concert is also – as the embassy confirms – overwhelming their capacity to process and provide visas.

Visa applications are never easy. Filipinos know the difficulties all too well. It usually includes proof of finances and capability, and a slew of other requirements, including employment certifications, ITRs, and bank statements.

The complexities of visa applications underscore the importance of having a powerful passport. That is not the Philippines at present. Just recently, the Philippine passport ranked 80th on the global index of passports, highlighting less freedom to travel for leisure, work, and more amidst the tail end of the pandemic.

The index is created by the Henley Passport Index or the Henley and Partners Global Passport Index. On the list, the Philippines was listed as 80th out of the 199 different global passports across roughly 227 destinations worldwide.

At 80th on the list, the Philippines can visit just 67 countries without needing a visa. While this may seem low, the ranking is higher than we placed at this same time in 2021, when we ranked 82. Based on the same list, the most powerful passports include Japan, with access to 193 countries, Singapore and South Korea with access to 192 countries, and Germany with access to 190 countries.

There’s no doubt having a powerful passport is a bonus. It means having the ability and choice to go places with access to individual needs without going through a tedious and often taxing visa process. It also gives travelers mobility and agility when making travel plans. Plus, a passport’s strength or weakness can directly impact how a person travels.

However, many factors go into influencing a country’s passport strength. One of the most prominent is income. Countries with high gross domestic product or GDP per capita usually enjoy more leniency with visa requirements. A high income alongside domestic fragility are critical indicators of passport strength. Fragility means country security. Peaceful countries with less violence and organized crime consistently rank higher on passport power.

Filipinos have had to apply for a visa to most destinations. While it would be wonderful to have more passport power, this won’t change until we make significant changes to improve the predictors of passport power. This means boosting our country’s income and ensuring stability and peace. All indicators show that wealthy and stable countries enjoy travel freedom the most, so we must focus on improving these areas. Until then, we need to be sure to have all the paperwork for visa applications.


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