Exploring the world has become incredibly convenient in recent times, unlike decades ago. Thanks to technological advancements, booking a flight and securing hotel accommodations can now be done with just a couple of clicks. While some individuals find it easy to plan their trips, others face difficulties when it comes to processing their travel abroad due to visa applications and the submission of various documents to establish their eligibility for vacationing, conducting business, or engaging in other activities. Unfortunately, this is the reality for Philippine passport holders.
According to the latest 2023 ranking released by Arton Capital — an organization that advocates the concept of “global citizenship” by promoting second residences and citizenships — the Philippines is ranked 62nd. In comparison, our neighboring countries like Malaysia rank 9th, Brunei ranks 14th, Thailand ranks 50th, and Indonesia ranks 54th.
Furthermore, in the ranking provided by Henley & Partners — a global leader in residence and citizenship by investment — the Philippines holds the 80th position, granting its passport holders access to 66 countries.
According to a study entitled “Wealth, Geopolitics, and the Great Mobility Divide” conducted by Dr. Omer Zarpli and Ugur Altundal, the factors that determine the strength or weakness of passports include the following:
- Income — According to World Bank data, countries with higher GDP per capita also benefit from more visa-free travel options.
- Domestic fragility or the level of violence in a country — Higher levels of travel freedom are less likely to exist in fragile nations. It is most likely that these nations fall under the high-risk umbrella of overstay, asylum, and security.
On the bright side, Philippine passport holders have the advantage of being able to visit countries within the ASEAN region due to the ASEAN agreement. The ASEAN treaty brings together several Southeast Asian nations for economic cooperation. Additionally, Filipinos have access to countries like Canada, Colombia, Hong Kong, Macau, Peru, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and more. However, it’s important to note that Filipino citizens still need to apply for a valid visa when traveling to 136 other countries.
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend an international forum in China. Being a Philippine passport holder, I had to go through the process of preparing numerous documents for my visa application before I could secure my flight tickets to China. These documents included a lengthy application form, a bank certificate, a bank statement, a certificate of employment, and a certificate of compensation payment, among others.
Apart from the document preparation, there are additional factors to consider, such as the time spent traveling back and forth to the embassy, as well as transportation and meals costs.
At the time of writing this (11th of June), I am still awaiting the results of my Chinese visa application process. I will be returning to the Chinese Embassy in Metro Manila after four business days to pay the visa application fee, which amounts to Php 1,400 (or nearly 25 USD). While I am fortunate that the application fee will be shouldered by the organizers of the event I will attend, some people have to pay it themselves.
Undoubtedly, geopolitics plays a crucial role in determining the freedom of travel for individuals around the world. Unfortunately, those who are in greatest need of international mobility — those seeking better opportunities outside their home country — often face travel restrictions and visa refusals from wealthier and more stable nations.
On the other hand, the Philippine government has the potential to negotiate bilateral agreements with other countries to secure visa-free or visa-on-arrival privileges for Filipino passport holders. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), in collaboration with the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), can actively advocate for regular reviews and revisions of visa requirements, aiming to simplify the application process and increase access to visa-free travel for Filipino passport holders.
Additionally, promoting global education and skills development can enhance the appeal of Filipino citizens to potential host countries.
Truly, a country’s overall reputation and perception can significantly influence the strength or weakness of its passport. Factors such as perceptions of corruption, human rights records, or geopolitical conflicts can indirectly impact the strength of a passport.
While technology has streamlined travel arrangements for people with Philippine passports, getting a visa and meeting other documentation requirements are still difficult. The Philippine government should negotiate bilateral agreements, streamline the visa application process, and encourage international education and skill development to improve the situation. Addressing problems like perceived corruption and geopolitical conflicts can help the passport’s validity indirectly.
Together, we can give Philippine passport holders the freedom to travel the world and take advantage of international opportunities. ✈️