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Editorial | The power of the passport

Published:Saturday | March 9, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Americans will need a visa to enter Europe starting in 2021. In just a couple of years, Americans wishing to travel to Europe will have to apply for ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System) in order to gain access to the continent.

The ETIAS applies to 22 countries in the Schengen zone, including France, Germany and Italy. The European Commission says these new visa requirements must be seen as part of the country’s international security measures. It will be a new experience for most Americans, who have not had to deal with acquiring costly visas as they travel around the world as holidaymakers or for business purposes.

The fact is, the access gained by that little book known as the passport is a good measure of a country’s standing in the world. Visa access is negotiated between countries, and most visa policies are bilateral. One would expect reciprocal visa-free travel between the two countries, but it does not work that way all the time.

For example, Americans and Canadians do not need visas to visit Jamaica for a stay of 90 days or less; however, Jamaicans need visas to visit either of their North American neighbours.

Visa policies change from time to time. Jamaicans, for example, have seen their access whittled down bit by bit, and today, the Jamaican passport allows visa-free travel to a mere 90 countries. It is noteworthy that all countries of the Caribbean Community rank above Jamaica in this regard, and only Haiti, Cuba and the Dominican Republic in the region rank lower. This is according to Passport Index, which curates and ranks the world’s passports.


If given an opportunity, we suspect many Jamaicans may opt to obtain an American passport, which they believe would grant them great travel freedom and access so easily denied to others. The truth, though, is that the American passport is not the most powerful in the world.

The highest-ranking passport belongs to citizens of the United Arab Emirates. The holders can gain access to 168 countries without obtaining a visa, or they simply get one on arrival at the airport. The United States (US) passport ranks below, granting visa-free access to 165 countries. It will fall even lower come 2021.

The 21st-century reality is that there is a serious clash between the natural human desire for mobility and the need for countries to keep their borders safe by keeping undesirables and terrorists at bay. So even though the rhetoric about globalisation and free movement of capital is being heavily touted, rich countries seem not too thrilled to have ethnic and racial minorities in their midst and will restrict their movements.

People travel for tourism, business and study opportunities, but many others are trying to flee oppressive regimes, war and poverty. Still others stay illegally in countries after their visas have expired.

Desperate people at borders, whether the US or Europe, is an indication of how much governments in poor Third-World countries have failed the citizens whom they have vowed to serve. These persons are looking for a better way of life for their families, which they cannot achieve in their own countries.

Immigration, specifically undocumented immigration, has been a flashpoint in the United States, and, indeed, in the United Kingdom, it has had an impact on the Brexit negotiations.

The controversial border wall being proposed by US President Donald Trump is one way to deal with the flood of migrants, although a significant number of illegals went to the United States on visas and overstayed their time. A Gallup Poll which surveyed Republican voters found that 76 per cent supported a pathway to citizenship for illegals rather than the construction of a border wall.

Migration issues will continue to engage governments because it touches on so many issues, including economics, politics, humanity, religion and culture. The debate must now move beyond the rhetoric.