Premature though it may seem, there are reasons to be optimistic about the return of global mobility as the threat of Covid-19 recedes.
As countries begin to reopen their borders, new findings from the Passport Index reveal figures that show global mobility returning to a historic upward trend.
The World Openness Score, the Passport Index’s real-time benchmark of open travel between countries, nose-dived 18 per cent since December 2019 as the virus spread. But the long-term trend is upwards, and this year’s data shows that, despite widespread restrictions, global mobility is higher now than it was as in 2015.
Dire as they may be, this year’s restrictions are not the new normal for world travellers and businesspeople hungry for international opportunities. Now is not the time for anybody to retire their passports or for businesses to rein in their global ambitions.
A bounceback is coming — and sooner than you think, thanks to humanity’s appetite for global mobility and the acceleration of “passport tech”. Now, smart technology is reimagining a document that has remained largely unchanged since the first passports were introduced 600 years ago.
World openness and prosperity are inextricably linked. Global mobility and visa-free travel go hand in hand with a “global citizen” mindset where we can work, travel, and succeed wherever the opportunities take us. Indeed, mobility will be the singularly most profound driver for economic recovery post-pandemic.
The World Openness Score has continually improved year on year since the inception of the Passport Index in 2015, and this trend shows no sign of dissipating. The temporary suspensions to visa-free entry arrangements in some places are just that — temporary. No agreements have, to date, been cancelled, and no visa policies have been changed.
This in itself is a cause for optimism. We are on the cusp of a passport revolution that will make travel safer for public health, and swifter from a travel experience perspective.
Given the current public health considerations, this is an opportunity for biometrics and health profiles to be at the heart of empowering greater freedom of movement for the individual and better control for border authorities.
This will really come into its own worldwide, and we predict that we will see 100 per cent biometric passports in the next couple of years.
New types of pre-arrival permissions and screening will also come into effect, as will the wider use of Electronic Systems for Travel Authorisation (so-called ESTAs). Mandatory sharing of health data and medical records will become the new norm.
The crisis that brought us to this point could also spur the widespread adoption of new technologies. At the heart of this lie secure systems, ready to be deployed, that match identity data in a passport with vaccine or Covid-19 test certificates.
The ability to validate identity and Covid-19 details, together, swiftly and securely can help restart global travel, and in turn the global economy. They will also, as a fortunate side effect, turbocharge the transition to smarter visa systems that was already underway, making travel more streamlined than it ever was before.
The shuttering of the global economy is causing enormous damage which will be felt for years.
But thanks to innovation and human ingenuity, the power of the passport will return once more, reviving travel and rebooting global growth.