With under two weeks before the New Year, the outlook for 2022 is clear: any lingering hope that the world of travel will suddenly snap back into place is looking less and less compelling. It’s time to come up with a new paradigm of understanding freedom of movement and to come to terms with the realization that visa-free travel, as we knew it, is dead.
Rotating cycles of quarantines, closures, reopenings, and other seemingly arbitrary restrictions continue to dominate the discourse of border policy. And this trend shows few signs of letting up. Instead, savvy investors, travelers, and RCBI service providers can emphasize more than ever the key role that investment migration can play in ensuring individuals’ ease of travel.
Here’s the reality:
Health checks are visas
What do you call a piece of paper you must have to board a plane, cross a checkpoint, or enter a country? That’s right: a visa! Regardless of your view on whether they are justified or effective, documentation that prohibits or allows travel, beyond basic identification or an onward ticket, is a form of visa control.
This time, these “visas” are even costlier and less predictable to the consumer and can severely complicate plans. Until more clearly-projected and less-knee-jerk policies are prioritized, it is highly unlikely that individuals can count on their passport’s “visa-free count” representing the reality of their travel power.
Slim prognosis on business travel rebound = less demand for travel
The tourist largely relies on the business traveler for the economies of scale and a push for a country to open its doors to the world. From the mid-2000s until late 2019, a seemingly ever-increasing (and almost bound-to-pop) bubble of competitive nation-branding in tourism and openness of travel seemed to delight even the budget-conscious traveler.
Tour groups were roaming around Turkmenistan. Friends of mine were visiting North Korea left and right. Glossy-eyed college students fresh out of high school in the United States got on a plane and moved to China. The likes of Brazil, Colombia, South Africa, India, Indonesia were all wide open and more welcoming destinations than ever.
That world is sadly no longer. And because of this, the impetus to insist and renew visa-free travel agreements in reality rather than on paper may wilt.
Regardless of what happens next, the power to shut down has been shown (and heeded)
I am always less interested in what will happen next (or even what happened) than in what can happen. That alone is enough of a market to assess risk on.
We have never before witnessed a more coordinated global shutdown than COVID-19. Governments tend not to like to relinquish power, especially if they succeed in convincing people it’s “for your safety”, so don’t hold your breath waiting for it to suddenly revert to normal.
Where can the global citizen find hope? Here’s what to look at instead:
Passports as unconditional access to that country
One thing was clear in early 2020: It mattered more than ever where you were a citizen of – not simply where you wanted to spend time. Mass repatriation efforts demonstrated that, without citizenship, you are never truly permitted or guaranteed entry “to the club”. It’s not a done deal until you have the passport.
This phenomenon proved a major wake-up call for those who had been living in the gray areas of visa runs, perpetual travel, or even various creative temporary residency schemes. Because guess what? Temporary residency can be revoked. Permanent residency can be revoked and identification documents de-facto not renewed or recognized.
Look at countries such as Japan or the UAE, which at several points have significantly restricted even lifelong non-citizen residents from returning home. Don’t underestimate the power of unconditional access as a citizen. Consider what second citizenship can offer you in terms of securing travel freedoms.
Second residencies are imperfect but more reliable than visa-free travel alone
The second-best level of security of access is still residency, however. Often far less costly and easier to obtain, at the very least residency can ensure the likelihood of free movement, especially to countries where you own property or seek to spend time. This ensures that you’re not overly reliant on the hope that the country will be open when you are ready to do your 90-day visit.
Second residencies can prevent you from being concerned about overstay limits, exit-entry where exit visas are still present, or claiming the “necessity” of travel based on one’s domicile.
Regional blocs for citizenship or residencies
What hasn’t suffered as greatly as global travel is regional travel. If you are unable or unwilling to get citizenship and residency exactly where you want to be, stay close to planting flags in the regional blocs you have a commitment to in your lifestyle or investments.
For example, Singaporeans are the first in line to enter South Korea; Saudis the first in line to enter other GCC countries; Brazilians, Colombians, and other MERCOSUR members the first to enter their respective associated regional partners.
And, lastly, simply getting a visa is not the end of the world either. While many OECD passport holders may be visa-averse, a valid visa issued in a post-COVID world may be a far more secure way to ensure uninterrupted travel than simply the “hope and pray” method that visa-free travel will be enough to rely on.
Dovetailing travel with business or educational purposes may bolster possibilities, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, where essential business travel may prove to be one of the only remaining avenues for movement in the foreseeable future. Here’s to hoping the days of slapping down a passport and walking in with a smile will return—but until then, investment migration offers the next best stake in one’s freedom.
Brian Greco is a traveler, cultural explorer, and advocate of free movement and the investment migration industry based in Istanbul, Turkey. Originally from the USA, Brian has a background in globalization studies at New York University and experience living in Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and traveling solo to more than 75 countries. He focuses on investigating and promoting new possibilities for expanding lifestyles in global cities, especially in frontier markets. Brian is a believer in the power of discovering the lesser-known path in life and using travel as a tool for personal growth.