ONE of the most widely cited measures of the strength of a country’s passport is the Henley Passport Index (HPI), which measures how powerful a passport is by its visa-free score, namely the number of countries the passport holder can visit without needing government-approved visas prior to travel.
This year, the HPI has listed the Malaysian passport as the world’s 12th most powerful, with visa-free access to 179 countries. However, as a proud Malaysian, I was slightly disappointed when I noted that this was a drop from the 10th place last year, with visa-free access to 180 countries.
It was also a bit disappointing to know that the passport of neighbouring Singapore is currently the world’s second most powerful, with visa-free access to 189 countries. Top of the list is Japan with visa-free access to 190 countries.
I did note a few reasons as to where and why Malaysia somewhat lags behind in terms of passport strength based on data from the HPI and credible news sources in the last few years.
To begin with, Malaysia is the only Asean country that has yet to sign a mutual visa exemption agreement with Myanmar, citing issues of large numbers of illegal Burmese foreign workers as the main reason.
Looking further at the Eurasian continent, Malaysia does not currently have visa-free arrangements with the economic giants China, India and Russia as well. Recently, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad stated that Malaysia is “not yet ready” to grant visa-free access to Chinese citizens, hence China would naturally not want to reciprocate.
Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran did moot the idea of visa-free travel for Malaysians to the Indian government but nothing seems to have progressed so far.
Russians can currently travel visa-free to Malaysia but the Russian government is not reciprocating.
Although there was news about possible visa-free travel for Malaysians to Russia back in 2012, this does not seem to be the case now.
Further across the oceans, both the United States and Canada have not reciprocated Malaysia’s visa-free entry privilege for their citizens.
In Canada’s case, the visa requirement was apparently effected post-Sept 11, although Malaysians have recently found it easier to obtain visas compared to many other countries.
As for the US, the past three years have seen numerous talks about Malaysia being next in line to be included in the Visa Waiver Program.
Despite having fulfilled all conditions set by the US government, the Trump administration seems to be unwilling to lift the freeze on adding new countries into the list, preventing Malaysians from having visa-free access to even some unincorporated American territories such as Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the US Virgin Islands.
I’m writing this to raise awareness and with the hope that our current government would seriously pursue visa-free arrangements with these countries, and more, for the benefit of all who are proud of holding a Malaysian passport.