While all the rumbling about the strength of Indian Passport is baseless, there are a lot of things optimistic beyond the Passport Index released every year by Henley and Partners. In 2020, Indian Passport holds 85th position (out of 109 nations) with access to 58 destinations without requiring a Visa. A number up or down of Indian Passport on a yearly basis do not really reflect anything on the improvement of the standard of Indian passport. In fact, the only genuine and exclusive privilege attached to this Passport do those not need a passport—-visa-free access to Nepal and Bhutan! For the worse, Bhutan is imposing small Green fees (called as sustainable development fees) on Indian travellers on a daily basis, to be introduced late this year.
Some of the visa free accesses have already been removed like in case of Ecuador in 2019. Ecuador has listed Indian nationals among others who have grossly misused country’s visa waiver regime. Previously, the South American region had also emerged as transit points for Indians trying to gain illegal access to US, much like other Latin Americans.
— Research and Travel (@res_travel) January 13, 2020
Countries which used to offer Visa on Arrival (VoA) to Indians like Ukraine have already stopped it. I wasted 11 hours in transit at Kiev airport expecting to gain access by chance, despite being aware of the changes. Various countries which have introduced e-visas have for some reason omitted Indian nationality in the list. On a regular basis, Indian nationals otherwise meeting all the requirements, are being put to stringent immigration procedures at the port of entry of some of the East European countries are also real concerns. Select few of those nations are already prospective members of the European Union; hence their posture is understandable but not pardonable. Nevertheless, that makes it hard for travellers to assess the situation before embarking on a plane.
Then what is after all changing! Evidently, it is the value of Indian passports with visas from either (or an only specific one) of the First World countries – United States, United Kingdom, Schengen, Canada, Australia or Japan. Recent changes to that effect include Oman, Armenia, Argentina, Chile, Jordan and the Bahamas. People have gained e-Visa/VoA on the basis of US visa for UAE and Turkey. In some cases, this is also true of other passports from third world countries. Some people are already aware of the same and have availed it on numerous occasions. Others, completely are unaware of what value does that visa bring to their otherwise ordinary passport.
I remember my travel to South East Asia/ South American region, I always felt the need of having the visas of neighbouring countries. Surprisingly, getting to the South American region seems too tiring, but once a person gets there, the ease of travel to the neighbouring region is plainly overwhelming. I felt that way when I was in Ecuador, as I could just travel by bus to Bogota on a reasonable fare (if I had US Visa then).
Of late, the regions like South American region seemed far off geographically and perceptively for Indians. Nonetheless, South American nations namely Argentina and Chile have gone a bit further to ease the restrictions; the newly introduced Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA)/ e-Visa system/VOA allow Indians with valid US/EU- Schengen Visa to travel without requiring them to make a Paper based application at the embassies. This is being imitated by others in the region for the past few years. Previously, Peru had done away with the visa requirement for Indian nationals having US B1/B2 Visa (Tourism/Business). Colombia already had it introduced a long time ago. Alternatively, people not having it already, can continue to choose to apply for the sticker visa. Much better get US Visa before, even if you do not plan to use it to travel to US. Canada has also made Indians eligible under the CAN+ Programme to provide easy issuance of Canada Visa for those possessing a valid US Visa.
My personal experience was in May 2019, when I used my US Visa for a short travel to South Korea during my 14-hour transit, while I was on my way to New York.
Now the point is, why the countries are doing it? One of the reasons is that they are overwhelmed by the willingness or obsession of Indian middle class to outbound mobility for tourism. Increased number of Indian travelers also help them enhance and diversify the sources of revenue. They are also willing to allow genuine travelers from India by doing away with a blanket ban/blanket barrier on everyone. Presumably, nationals holding First world visas won’t stay illegally in other third world regions, which may or may not have better/less competitive economic and employment opportunities. Hope, the situation would gradually become better in near future but certainly, that would not reflect on the Passport Index of Henley and Partners.