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Khanna: Even After Vaccinations, Mobility Will Be Tied to Individuals, Not Just Passports

Many of the restrictions on travel and migration introduced in response to the pandemic – initially thought temporary – will remain long after COVID has been repressed, suggests global strategy analyst Dr. Parag Khanna.

Right up until the outbreak of the pandemic, global mobility had been on a multi-decade, uninterrupted tear; between 2006 and 2019, the average number of visa-free destinations available to holders of the top 20 passports – according to the Henley & Partners Passport Index – grew from 126.5 to 187.

That trend had appeared unassailable until March 2020. Now that vaccinations are being rolled out at the rate of more than 10 million a week (a clip that will continue to accelerate), many are hoping for and expecting temporary mobility restrictions to fall away in tandem with case counts. Dr. Parag Khanna, however, a man who makes a living in part by predicting the future of globalization, considers such a “return to normal” unlikely.

“The system will not return to what it was: Nationality will not suffice to guarantee safe passage,” Khanna writes in the Global Mobility Report 2021 Q1, released today. Pointing to the US as the most prominent example of a country whose citizens have seen a drastic reduction in mobility (from 184 visa-free destinations in January 2020 to, effectively, 75 today), he hints that a return to former heights will come only gradually.

“Even for still-powerful passports such as [those of] Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and members of the EU, additional protocols will be required to re-attain relatively frictionless mobility. For example, to avoid onerous quarantines, individuals will have to certify their health immunity through vaccination certificates and other special registrations.”

But wide-spread vaccinations, in themselves, he points out, will not be an instant panacea that quickly restores international mobility; freedom of movement, when it does return, will only take on an intra-regional nature at first.

“Even in a scenario of rapid global deployment of a vaccine, large-scale migration will surely be limited and entrenched at the regional level: Europeans within Europe, Asians within Asia, Latin Americans within the western hemisphere. The current economic depression in many countries, depleted savings, political and cultural xenophobia, and other contemporary realities make this all but certain.” 

Dour as this prognosis might appear, it also portends a world in which mobility discrimination takes place on the basis of individual qualifications rather than on a person’s belonging to a certain group by accident of birth, an oft-lamented state of affairs that many industry observers consider inherently unjust.

“Mobility will therefore be tied much more to individual merit. For those seeking a clean start far from their regions of origin under existing and expanding highly skilled migrant programs, irrespective of their nationality, rigorous checks on their financial, criminal, and professional history are already the norm. This may seem an onerous development, but it also levels the playing field for hard-working professionals from developing countries.”

As far as the prospects of the residence and citizenship by investment business are concerned, however, Khanna believes the pandemic has had a favorable effect.

“There is no question that these trends in combination have boosted the appeal of investment migration, whether for digital nomads, those looking to acquire second passports, or those changing nationality altogether.”

More From Industry Trends

“The system will not return to what it was: Nationality will not suffice to guarantee safe passage,” Dr. Khanna writes.

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