Bangladesh Passport | Why does one of the fastest growing economies in the world have one of the weakest passports?

Irregular migration, anti-immigrant sentiment in the developed world, pre-existing biases and inherent limitations in research methodology all play a role in the downgrading of the Bangladesh Passport’s position in the Henley Passport Index.

Nusmila Lohani

June 12, 2022, 2:20 p.m.

Last modification: June 12, 2022, 3:02 PM

Graphics: TBS


Graphics: TBS

Recently, the Bangladesh passport was ranked as the 9th weakest passport in the world in the Henley Index. This is not really a surprise since we have only consistently increased or decreased this index by a few places over the past few years.

The latest Henley Index ranking placed the Passport at 103rd out of 116 positions. It is not quite easy to understand what exactly the classification itself means for passport holders. But one thing we know for sure is that Bangladesh passport has visa-free (or visa on arrival) access to only 40 countries in the world, which is one of the main parameters determining the ranking .

So why exactly is Bangladesh’s passport so weak, what are the underlying factors that determine our visa-free access to countries around the world?

“If the ranking is based on the number of visa-free countries that a passport can access, then our irregular migration is definitely linked to that,” former Ambassador Humayun Kabir said, “We see it [Bangladeshis reaching destinations illegally] in the Mediterranean, in the Sahara, in Europe. These are the reasons or the scope of the possibility for us to be portrayed negatively.”

If we take a look at the short history of the Henley Passport Index, which was created only 16 years ago, we can see that Bangladesh fared much better in 2006 (at 68th position) than he does now.

So how can this trend be explained? Increased labor movement due to globalization and rising anti-immigrant sentiment around the world, Kabir believes, explains this trend.

“Technological innovation, financial innovation or you can say productivity innovation…this innovative process of globalization has made many old jobs redundant. And many people around the world have not been able to s “adapt to the new economy from the old economy. For this, there has been a rising trend of unemployment in the world over the past 20 years,” Kabir said.

Moreover, local politicians have politicized this phenomenon for their own benefit and in doing so, “we have seen Brexit, Donald Trump, ultra-nationalists in Italy, AFD in Germany, etc. Kabir said.

Graphics: TBS

Graphics: TBS

Graphics: TBS

The prevalence of anti-immigrant sentiment has extended its tentacles across borders, which has actually translated into more and more visa restrictions. So, with more and more Bangladeshis emigrating abroad over the past two decades, gaining more visibility in the diaspora and growing anti-immigrant sentiment, one can understand why Bangladesh’s ranking has dropped in the index. Henley passports.

But that’s not all. There’s a bigger picture at play here. First, methodology matters a lot, according to Imtiaz Ahmed, professor of international relations at the University of Dhaka.
“When there is an indexed perception [or such ranking]it does not excite me as a sociologist [because of its flaws]”, Ahmed said, adding: “I’m sure there must be other criteria [beyond visa-free access to countries] and I guess it’s very skewed towards developed countries where GDP and per capita income are taken into account.”

Perhaps now that Bangladesh is on the verge of graduating from the Least Developed Country (LDC) category and enjoys a thriving economy with most, if not all, of the indicators pointing to lush growth, it is time to consider why Bangladeshis use illegal channels to migrate.

To this end, Kabir insisted on how we talk about development in the country in a coherent way: “But we have to somehow connect this development with the lives of ordinary people, integrate the common into the development process and create opportunities for them.”
“There are a few elements in this regard. For example, the younger generation, the 2 million newcomers or the young population, who join the labor market every year – for them, in addition to the development stories, can we present a tangible hope of their?

Do they have hope for this country?” Kabir said.

To really address the problem of irregular migration and ways to address it, one must look at the root causes of this phenomenon, according to Kabir. He also added, “Is there a future prospect of employment or any other economic opportunity that we can secure? If not, then the question is, what will they do?

“They will look for ways to go overseas. And they are doing that, both legally and illegally.”

In addition, Bangladesh must take into account that improving employment opportunities in the domestic market is a difficult task and that it is almost impossible to achieve 100% employment in the foreseeable future given the population size. In doing so, according to Kabir, those who leave anyway for work opportunities should be trained and equipped to perform better abroad.

“In effect, [Bangladeshi] workers would be welcome in many countries. Visas would no longer be required, they would be welcomed without a visa or obtain a visa on arrival,” he said.

Graphics: TBS

Graphics: TBS

Graphics: TBS

A British company named Henley and Partners is responsible for the Henley Passport Index, which takes data from the International Air Travel Association (IATA) and covers 199 passports and 227 travel destinations.

For an article on Bangladesh passports last year, the British firm was contacted and asked to explain the criteria on which it bases its ranking.

“We are specialists in investment migration advice rather than political commentators,” said Sarah Nicklin, group head of public relations at Henley and Partners, via email. “However, what we have observed is that commonalities in history and economic status, common foreign policy goals and reciprocity come into play, along with security, trade and political alliances. ”

It can be deduced that the passport ranking of Bangladesh – which is on par with war-torn Libya and ranks lower than Myanmar at 97th position which has been under military rule since February 2021 when its civilian government was reversed – is not quite black and white, which can be explained by irregular migration. Because compared to countries that are faring much worse than Bangladesh in many ways, the rankings don’t quite match up.

Sarah Nicklin, of Henley Passport Index, also said earlier: “There are many countries around the world that systematically prohibit nationals of specific countries from entering their borders or their own nationals from entering the borders of specific countries. due to the collapse of diplomatic relations”.

Additionally, there may be a pre-existing bias that perceives certain countries a certain way. And continues to disadvantage countries like Bangladesh with a weak passport.

This is evidenced by the fact that even when Bangladeshis are not the highest migrant population entering a certain country, they still have to go through checks (like obtaining visas) to enter a country, unlike some nationals.

“The highest number [of people] who migrate to Australia are always the British,” said Imtiaz Ahmed. The Australian Bureau of Statistics confirms this claim.

“And they’re allowed in. Whereas if I want to come in [Australia]I must be a doctor or an engineer [or someone with credentials and background checks] or they won’t let me in,” Ahmed said, “So that’s the problem.

Germany tops the Henley Passport Index in 2nd place with 190 visa-free destinations. “They [the ones who create policies and rankings] know very well that a German will not go and stay in Bangladesh. But will come to do business in Bangladesh,” Ahmed said, emphasizing that nationals of developed countries are advantaged. [no visa limitation] who continue to exploit the theory of comparative advantage to their advantage.

Ahmed said that we could make a ranking based on who travels to countries to take advantage of cheap labor countries. Such a hypothetical ranking probably does not bode well for many developed countries that continue to reap the fruits of our labor.

If we reverse-engineer Kabir’s explanation of the weakness of the Bangladeshi passport due to irregular immigration, then perhaps what Ahmed said rings more true: “you see, as soon as Bangladesh will become Singapore, you know a developed country, things will change.

“I suppose that [the ranking] has more to do with a country not having access to the privileges enjoyed by a developed country solely because of the global status quo.”

Whatever the underlying reasons, there is no doubt that such restrictions on the movement of Bangladeshis have far-reaching implications, including and probably most importantly, on our competitiveness in global trade.

“Of course, visa-free access will help. It’s really very difficult now that global clients are calling for meetings and we don’t get visas even within 60 days for some countries,” Abdullah Hil Rakib said. , Managing Director of Team Group and the Director of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), via text message.

Rakib, who was on a business trip to Spain when this article was written, also mentioned that the situation (visa processing time) is really bad right now due to huge backlogs caused by Covid-19. “For Spain, our [BGMEA] the president could get it [the visa] after three weeks,” he added.

Faruque Hassan, President of BGMEA, echoed the same sentiment, acknowledging how many nations already have visa-free entry to many countries while Bangladesh remains at a disadvantage.

“It is, of course, a barrier to expanding our market or when we have bilateral trade that we want to develop,” Hassan told The Business Standard.

Nusmila Lohani

Nusmila Lohani

Nusmila Lohani

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