Bangladesh's passport continues to be amongst the weakest in the world, with its position remaining unchanged in the latest edition of the Henley Passport Index, the pioneer ranking of all the world's travel documents.
Out of a total of 104 spots on the index, Bangladesh came in at 97, sharing the spot with Iran and South Sudan.
A decade ago, Bangladeshi passport holders could travel to 39 destinations, out of a possible 227, without needing to get prior visas. Now, they can travel to 41 destinations, an improvement of just 2 since 2009 and no improvement since last year.
In contrast, the Indian passport holders can now visit 23 more countries visa-free or with visa-on-arrival than they could have in 2009. They now have visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 60 countries.
Sri Lanka improved more than Bangladesh in the last decade. Sri Lankan passport gives people visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 43 countries.
In South Asia, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan fared worse than Bangladesh in the latest edition of the index unveiled yesterday.
The Maldives got the highest ranking amongst the South Asian nations, 58, followed by neighbouring India, 80, Bhutan, 84, and Sri Lanka, 95.
Feeble efforts from the government to work out visa waiver agreements with other countries and diplomatic ties are the reasons behind the poor performance of the Bangladesh passport, Dominic Volek, managing partner and head of Southeast Asia of Henley & Partners, told The Daily Star over telephone yesterday.
Visa waiver agreements are a two-way street, so Bangladesh would also have to offer nationals of those countries visa-on-arrival facility, he said.
At present, Bangladesh offers visa-on-arrival to nationals of 48 countries, including EU member nations, the US, Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Canada, China, Japan.
Volek advised the government to start a conversation with other countries to improve the efficacy of the Bangladesh passport.
He went on to cite the UAE and China as examples of countries whose passports paced up the rankings in the past decade thanks to deft diplomacy.
Both the countries had quite restricted visa policies; the UAE is now just one spot away from entry into the index's top 20.
“The index has also been a great indicator of bilateral ties and international relations between countries. A snapshot at the index's top 20 today compared to what it was 20 years ago tells an interesting story.”
European countries dominated the index then and were immovable. But now they are surely but steadily dropping down the ranks as Asian countries improve to take their place.
The index, which covers 199 passports, is based on “exclusive” data provided by the International Air Transport Authority. The data is enhanced by extensive research and updated as and when visa policy changes come into effect.
Henley & Partners provides consultancy service for obtaining a second citizenship and Bangladesh's weak passport is giving the UK-based firm good business.
Bangladeshis are among its top three clienteles of alternative citizenship, Volek said.
“We have been seeing demand from Bangladeshis for second citizenship of countries such as Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Malta and St Kitts and Nevis.”
And according to a Wealth-X report, Bangladesh tops the list of countries that saw the quickest growth in the number of ultra-high net worth population with a 17.3 percent growth during the 2012-17 period.
“So, we can expect more and more super-wealthy Bangladeshis looking to alternative citizenship as way to improve their travel mobility and freedom,” he added.
Singapore and Japan held on to the top spot in the index and were joined by South Korea this time, in a resounding demonstration of Asia's growing power and influence on the world stage.