What a country can do about its passport power

August 16, 2023 | 03:30 pm PT
Lam Vu Expert
When I first traveled to Australia many years ago to study, I had to complete many procedures when applying for the visa.

They cost both a lot of time and money, especially the health examinations and biometric data.

Then I sadly realized that the Vietnamese passport was too weak.

Now as I work in diplomatic policy research, visa application procedures for Vietnamese remain complicated and friends and family often consult me on that.

Many people I speak to raise questions, and show their frustration, at the weakness of the Vietnamese passport.

According to the Henley Passport Index released last month, it ranked 82nd with Vietnamese citizens enjoying visa-free access to 55 destinations.

A man holds a Vietnamese passport. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Du

A man holds a Vietnamese passport. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Du

People often blame the low ranking on Vietnamese people behaving badly or violating regulations overseas. That is true but not the whole story.

Visa waivers and simplifications are a direct result of bilateral and multilateral agreements. From what I see, Vietnam has the wherewithal to negotiate more visa agreements that benefit its citizens.

Diplomatic relations are one of the most important factors in this regard. Countries that have strong or long-lasting ties allow their citizens to travel between one another visa-free, like the EU, Commonwealth and ASEAN.

Vietnam’s diplomatic status has been rising and Its diplomatic ties with many countries have been growing stronger, and it can use that advantage in visa negotiations.

The second factor is safety and security.

Countries make visa policy decisions with concerns about crime, terrorism and illegal migration. The fact that some Vietnamese migrated illegally to Australia, South Korea and the U.K. in recent years is indeed a big problem.

Vietnam can fix that by adopting international standards in passport information and tracking. Issuing a passport without birthplace information like it did last year did not help.

Visa policy transparency is another plus.

Vietnam can set up an official portal on visa procedures. Transparent, organizational supply of visa information will help raise its prestige.

Economic factors also affect visa agreements. Rich, developed countries often receive more visa waivers as their citizens are considered to have lower tendency to migrate illegally and greater tendency to spend more overseas.

Japan, Singapore, South Korea, U.K., and Germany thus have the most powerful passports.

For Vietnam, this is just a matter of time. When the country’s economy continues to develop, and more Vietnamese tourists and businesspeople travel overseas, the country’s passport will become stronger.

Another basic principle in visa negotiations is reciprocity. For instance, Vietnam not waiving visas for Australian citizens partly influences Australia into not doing it for Vietnam.

Political disagreements or concerns about political instability can also prompt one nation to change its visa policy toward another.

The EU has suspended visa promotion negotiations with Russia amid the Ukraine war, making it difficult now for Russian citizens to apply for visas to enter EU member countries.

Improving a nation’s passport power is a long-term effort and relies a lot on a government’s efforts, from actively initiating visa negotiations to raising the country’s political and economic status.

*Lam Vu is an international relations expert.

The opinions expressed here are personal and do not necessarily match VnExpress's viewpoints. Send your opinions here.
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