High demand for Singapore passport due to its wide access

It is among most welcome worldwide with visa-free access to 167 places

A Singapore passport remains one of the most welcome in the world, research has found. -- ST FILE PHOTO: MALCOLM MCLEOD
A Singapore passport remains one of the most welcome in the world, research has found. -- ST FILE PHOTO: MALCOLM MCLEOD

A Singapore passport remains one of the most welcome in the world, research has found.

In 2013, it offered visa-free access to 167 of 219 countries surveyed for the latest Visa Restrictions Index.

It was ranked sixth internationally - alongside Australia and Greece - for the unrestricted access it offers. This was up from eighth place in 2012, when it offered such access to 161 countries, and ninth in 2011 when it was waved through in 164.

Citizens of Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom held the best passports for global travel in 2013, with visa-free access to 173 countries.

Consultancy firm Henley & Partners carried out the study in collaboration with the International Air Transport Association.

Henley's chairman Christian Kalin told The Straits Times yesterday that Singapore passports are in "high demand".

Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli had told Parliament on Monday that around 7,000 passports have been reported lost or stolen in each of the last five years.

Mr Kalin called Singapore "one of the premier residence options in the world today".

"The Singaporean Government is making great efforts to attract talent and good human capital to facilitate the growth of its economy," he said. "The Government's intention is for foreigners to make Singapore their home, so there are a number of incentives and benefits for citizens."

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority was unable to provide a more detailed breakdown of the figure revealed by Mr Masagos - such as how many passports were lost overseas.

Mr Masagos also said about 350 travellers have been caught carrying forged or tampered passports at Singapore checkpoints in each of the last five years. He gave no further details.

Among the 52 countries and territories requiring Singaporeans to obtain a visa are Afghanistan, Bhutan, Iraq, Myanmar, Kazakhstan and Yemen.

Singaporeans can travel freely to Canada, China, the European Union and the United States.

Mr B.C. Tan, head of Asia-Pacific risk research at international media firm Thomson Reuters, said Singapore passport holders could be profiled as a lower-risk category because of the country's "good global reputation of low crime rates, strict enforcement and efficient government administration".

Since August 2006, all newly issued Singapore passports have been biometrically enabled with new security features, such as a shorter expiration date of five years and unique passport numbers that are changed when the passport is renewed.

Mr Tan, who specialises in transnational organised crime, noted how these could make it "rather difficult to forge or travel impersonating the actual holder of the Singapore passport".

"However, in recent years, there has been a noticeable surge in Singaporean passport holders being used as mules to smuggle contraband," he added. "These can be... willing participants or unwitting individuals who have fallen prey to scams."

The ICA said the unique numbers in every biometric passport enable international enforcement agencies to share information on lost or stolen passports.

To date, more than 40 million travel papers - mostly passports - have been reported to Interpol, which set up a Stolen and Lost Travel Documents database in the wake of the Sept 11 terror attacks on the US in 2001.

Singapore accesses this about 29 million times a year to determine if a passport presented has been reported lost or stolen.

In 2004, eight Singaporeans were jailed for up to 61/2 years in China for trying to smuggle Chinese nationals into the US using Singapore passports.

One of them, a 39-year-old woman who did not want to be named, told The Straits Times: "Travellers with Singapore passports do not usually get checked at immigration checkpoints."

Henley & Partners, which will release its 2014 index in June, said: "Visa requirements are also an expression of relationships between individual nations and generally reflect the relations and status of a country within the international community."

Afghanistan ranked lowest in last year's index, with its citizens having visa-free access to just 28 countries.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.