Journal Article

The global evolution of travel visa regimes

Drawing on the new DEMIG VISA database, which covers global bilateral travel regulations from 1973 to 2013, this paper explores patterns and trends in international travel visa regimes. The analysis challenges the idea of a growing global mobility divide between "North" and "South," yielding a more complex image reflecting the multi-polar and multi-layered nature of international relations. While predominantly European and North American OECD countries have maintained relatively high but not increasing levels of entry visa restrictiveness for Africa and Asia, the latter regions maintain the highest global levels of overall entry restrictions. While citizens of wealthy (mainly OECD) countries generally enjoy the greatest visa-free travel opportunities, this primarily reflects their freedom to travel to other OECD countries. Visa-free travel is mostly realized between geographically proximate countries of integrated regional blocs such as ECOWAS, the EU, the GCC, and MERCOSUR. Analyses of global dynamics in visa reciprocity show that around 20 percent of the country dyads have asymmetrical visa rules, but also show that levels of reciprocity have increased since the mid-1990s. Our analysis shows that visas are not just instruments regulating entry of visitors and exit of citizens but are manifestations of broader political economic trends and inequalities in international power relations.

Published in a peer-reviewed journal of the Population Council.