Thu | Dec 2, 2021

Editorial | How does Jamaica match up in passport power?

Published:Saturday | December 26, 2020 | 12:05 AM

Measured against most of its CARICOM neighbours, the Jamaican passport is worth very little. The power of a passport is measured by the number of countries a passport holder can visit for tourist purposes, without having to obtain a visa or with the ease of getting one on arrival at the port of entry.

Known as the visa-free scoring (VFS) system, a high VFS score ensures that the passport holder has a greater measure of global mobility. The Henley Passport Index, using data provided by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), has been doing this survey for 14 years.

In its 2020 report, Jamaica gets a ranking of 58 for having visa-free access to 86 countries, falling behind countries like Barbados with travel privileges to 161 countries, St Kitts and Nevis with visa-free access to 156 countries, and The Bahamas gaining access to 155 countries. In our region, only Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic fall below Jamaica in this index.

The Henley Passport Index goes beyond ranking passports, it also advises high net worth individuals about which additional passports would improve their mobility. And it is countries like Grenada, St Lucia and St Kitts and Nevis which are being recommended, where participation in the citizenship by investment programme (CIB) gives access to desirable destinations in Europe, the United States (US) and beyond.

Unquestionably, the value of the Jamaican passport has diminished significantly over time. Take the Cayman Islands, for example, once a dependency of Jamaica. It now requires Jamaicans to get a visa in order to visit. To add insult to injury, a Jamaican with a US visa can enter the Cayman Islands from any US port, but not directly from Jamaica. Even if the passport holder has a UK visa, which technically governs the Cayman Islands, it does not count.

STUNTED MOBILITY

It is, therefore, pointless for anyone to pretend that the Jamaican passport has heft. This is why we were puzzled by National Security Minister Horace Chang’s declaration that the Jamaican passport was punching above its weight. It is not. Weight is measured by the global mobility of a passport holder and, as far as Jamaica is concerned, it is stunted.

Dr Chang was speaking at the upgraded Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA) centre in Montego Bay. He lauded the agency for acquiring ISO 9001:2015 certification. He said: “We must now recognise that this quality of service brings increased value to our Jamaican passport. It means that, when you travel with a Jamaican passport, the receiving country can accept that passport with a level of confidence.”

PICA’s work is to be commended, for it has raised the quality of service available to passport seekers, it appears to have succeeded in eliminating undesirable elements from the system, and has brought a measure of efficiency to customer service. We hope they will maintain those standards.

Worrying legal and humanitarian concerns at many borders have resulted in greater policy attention being placed on the movement of individuals. But, even as countries establish better surveillance and regulatory measures to keep terrorists and smugglers at bay, border policy is fraught with politics.

Many of our citizens have behaved in grossly antisocial ways and participated in criminal activities overseas, for which they have been punished. However, the majority of Jamaicans do honour their visa privileges and act within the law. Should the majority be punished for the indiscretions of the minority?

Recently, the Trump administration threatened to impose sanctions on countries where more than 10 per cent of their citizens have overstayed their time in the US. And there have been new visa arrangements for the Chinese. What is interesting is that, like Jamaica, the US has fallen in rank on the index and, come 2021, Americans will need to get visas to visit Europe in the post-Brexit era.

Visa arrangements change from time to time, depending on relationships between countries. But a high-ranking passport makes a definite statement about how robust a country’s diplomatic relations are, and its foreign policy initiatives to secure reciprocal arrangements for its citizens.

So, while we applaud ISO-9001 certification, we think our Government should insert visa arrangements in future trade and airline deals.

We feel certain that growth in passport power is of great interest to citizens who want assurance that their passports will guarantee them worry-free travel and ease of access to more countries in the world.