By Hussain Farooq
A passport is the most common form of travel document for international travel, but is it merely a travel document or do some of the inherent properties of the small booklet make it an asset?
Anyone travelling overseas needs to be in possession of a valid passport. A passport is a travel document, issued by the state, to its citizens permitting them to travel outside the boundaries of the respective country. In certain cases, governments or international organizations may issue documents like passports. These documents are commonly, but not always, known as laissez-passer.
All countries in this world are not equal; some are economically powerful while others are not self-sufficient. Similarly, passports of all the countries are not equal in their respective strengths. Interestingly, the strength of a country’s passport is not always directly proportional to its economic or military power. China, for example, is a great economic power. However, the Chinese passport is much less powerful in comparison to the Argentinian passport, for instance, considering Argentina has a much smaller and comparatively low-performing economy compared to China’s. Qatar, as another example, has one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world, but its passport is much weaker compared to Vanuatu’s, which comparatively has a much lower GDP per capita.
No one has the option of choosing his or her place of birth, yet these factors of place of birth and the nationality of one’s parents are factors that determine one’s original nationality. Some countries, like Canada or the United States, grant citizenship to anyone born in the country’s territory, which is something referred to as jus soli, or birthright citizenship. Most other countries grant citizenship on the basis of nationality of one, or both, of the parents, something referred to as jus sanguinis.
A child born to citizens of the Philippines in the Philippines, for example, will bear a Filipino passport, which isn’t a very strong travel document. However, a child born to citizens of Philippines who are in the U.S. on E-2 visas will be entitled to carry the U.S. passport — a strong travel document — by virtue of American birthright citizenship.
A child born to Swiss parents or even an unmarried Swiss mother, for example, is automatically a Swiss national. But a child who grew up and lived all her life in Switzerland, in addition to perfectly speaking Alemmanic, the Swiss dialect of German and other Swiss languages, may find it difficult to be granted Swiss nationality if she was born to non-Swiss parents.
A Swiss passport remains one of the world’s most unique passports in that it does not indicate the passport bearer’s place of birth. Heimatort, or the place of origin, mentioned on Swiss passports is different from the place of birth and is not to be confused with the latter. One other country had to face international concerns when it issued passports which did not include information on the birthplace of the bearers – something that, again, reaffirms that all passports are not treated the same way by the international community.
Article 1 and 2 of the universal declaration of human rights by the United Nations state that no distinction shall be made among individuals on the basis of political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs. Yet the citizens of a particular country may face discrimination in the outside world just because they were born in a country not having good diplomatic acceptance in the world.
A Nobel Peace Prize winner and a renowned gynecologist from Africa, for instance, may not be able to attend a medical conference in the U.K. because of visa issues. But a high school dropout from North America, for example, may fly to the U.K. without going through the hassles of applying for a visa. Leaders and seasoned businessmen from certain African countries, for example, who want to attend a global African summit in the U.S. could also be refused U.S. visas for a summit on enhancing discussions with African leaders on trade and investment relations.
Passports or other forms of national identity documents from certain countries not only afford visa-free travel to other countries but may also afford automatic rights of settlement in other countries. Citizens of Iceland, a far-off country in the north Atlantic Ocean, for instance, not only get through fast-track immigration counters in Germany made for EEA nationals, but also have automatic and undeniable rights to reside and work in Germany. Citizens of member states of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) —Saudi Arabia, for example — can enjoy accelerated immigration at an airport of another GCC member state, such as Dubai’s. Meanwhile, the citizens of a European country with one of the most powerful passports may not enjoy this luxury at the same airport.
Passport privileges vary
Citizens of different countries can enjoy privileges in their own countries which are afforded to them by virtue of their nationality — a link with the host state. But these people, at international borders, are recognized and treated based on their passport power. Nationals of certain countries enjoy privileges of visa-free entry into a great number of destinations around the world, as if they hold membership into a certain privilege club, while nationals of some diplomatically weak countries are not afforded such rights. They go through a vetting procedure most of the time before they travel internationally.
Such a discrepancy creates desire for acquiring a well-respected passport in the minds of the individuals who, through no fault of their own, hold a passport which doesn’t afford them such privileges. Those with skills may opt to leverage their talents to become residents, and eventually citizens, of certain developed countries through the skilled migration programs offered by certain countries. Those with means may leverage their business acumen and investments to obtain citizenship of countries that offer citizenship-by-investment programs.
The question remains: Is a passport merely a travel document?
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