The three Middle Eastern countries rounded out the bottom of Passport Index’s annual global rankings, mainly due to turbulent international relationships, ongoing conflicts and visa-overstay risk. Tracking the world’s passport power tells us more than how easy–or challenging–it can be for people to travel.
Our annual Global Passport Power Rank, based on visa-free and visa-on-arrival access, reflects how interconnected our world has become and clearly indicates which citizens enjoy the freedoms and benefits of mobility.
On our Global Passport Power Rank 2022, we saw familiar faces atop the list, including the United Arab Emirates, which once again had the most powerful passport and exceeded its pre-pandemic power. Meanwhile, European nations continue to benefit from EU membership and a global network of bilateral visa-free agreements.
But some passports didn’t fare as well. For every country embracing open borders, there’s another contending with problems that limit the movement of its citizens. Factors like low GDP, high rates of violence, or large internally displaced populations can all significantly hamper mobility.
Often, wealthy, more stable countries are hesitant to open their borders to countries that could pose security or terrorism threats. They may also be concerned about travelers overstaying their visas in search of safety, opportunity, and a higher quality of life.
The weakest passports on this year’s global ranking–Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq–struggle with poor economic growth, ongoing conflict, terrorist attacks, state legitimacy, and more. As a result, passport holders from these countries require visas to access about 80% of the world.
To better understand their challenges, we look at what’s happening in these three countries.
Ranked No. 96, the third weakest passport in the world is Iraq. A former British colony, this Gulf nation possesses the world’s second-largest oil reserves. But despite its abundant fossil fuel revenues, Iraqi citizens have endured coups and revolutions, conflicts with neighboring countries such as Kuwait and Iran, a ruthless dictator, international sanctions, and the lasting effects of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.
In recent years, Iraq has made strides that would never have been possible under the iron fist of dictator Saddam Hussein. Still, the country has faced challenges like the rise of the terrorist organization ISIS in the northern regions, COVID-induced health and economic crises, widespread power outages, and a young political system prone to stalemate and inaction. In 2022, the Iraq passport had a Mobility Score (MS) of 41–just a quarter of the UAE’s MS of180.
Sharing a border with Iraq, Syria has the world’s second weakest passport, ranked at No. 97. Since 2011, the country has been embroiled in a civil war which has devolved into a multi-sided, costly clash between President Bashar al-Assad and various domestic and foreign forces.
Not only has the war financially crippled the country, with economic policy focused on protecting the Assad regime and bolstering the military’s capacity, but it has also devastated the population. The Syrian conflict has displaced 13 million people–over half of its pre-war population. An estimated 5.6 million refugees have fled the country, predominantly to nearby countries like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Tragically, about a quarter of the world’s refugees are Syrian.
Syria’s situation has affected its passport power. With an MS of 40, Syrian passport holders can visit 40 countries–primarily African states but also Malaysia, Peru and Dominica–without being required to apply in person for a visa.
Anchoring the bottom of the 2022 ranking is Afghanistan at No. 98. Much like Iraq and Syria, Afghanistan has had a turbulent history, including a series of foreign invasions, violent coups, ethnic and religious conflicts, and a proliferation of terrorist organizations.
Most recently, US-led forces abruptly withdrew from the country in 2021, leaving a power vacuum filled by the Taliban. Overnight, this Islamic fundamentalist group stripped Afghan women and girls of fundamental human rights and violated the constitutional rights of millions more citizens. Consequently, foreign donors responded by halting civilian and security aid, accounting for over $8 billion per year or equivalent to 40% of the country’s GDP.
Afghanistan’s economy is believed to have contracted by as much as 30% in the last year due to the lack of grants, cash shortages, sanctions and frozen assets associated with concerns about money laundering. Today, food insecurity affects 95% of the country’s population, according to the United Nations.
Despite having the world’s weakest passport with an MS of 39, the Taliban regime has made tens of millions in revenue from the sale of passports. Applications for travel documents have skyrocketed in the last year as hundreds of thousands of Afghans attempt to leave the country. Corruption and bribery are reportedly rampant, with some citizens forced to pay eight times the official cost of a passport to corrupt administrators.