Indian passport remains weak, as per Henley’s 2021 index, India has visa-free access to only 59 countries and that excludes the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Schengen zone.

Before ruminating on that, it is worth asking, why China, which is 5 times richer than India in terms of per capita GDP is not doing significantly better either. The island countries of the Caribbean with a population of less than a million have better access than China. Even war-torn Venezuela has a better passport including visa-free access to western Europe.

I believe that two dominating factors decide the power of a country’s passport. First, how rich is the country? And second, how big is its population?

Humans are status-minded creatures. Consider, for example, immigration violations in the US, there is little concern in the US around their richer Canadian neighbor who overstays. While the poorer immigrants from the south are heavily debated.

The second even more crucial aspect is population. The population of Venezuela is only 30 million. It is a fraction of the population of India or China. So, numerically how many illegal immigrants or visa violators in Europe will be from Venezuela than, say, from India? That’s why requiring visas for Indians or Chinese nationals but not say Venezuelans is an easy way to minimize immigrant authorities’ workload.

Lastly, many countries both around Europe and in the Americas have become more creative. Last I checked, about 30 countries gave visa-free access to Indians if they held a multi-entry US visa, and about 10 non-Schengen countries accepted multi-entry Schengen visas as a substitute for their national visa. Canada, for example, allows US green card holders to enter visa-free. These policies reduce the likelihood of encountering visa violators. I remain optimistic over time more countries would give visa-free access to US/Schengen visa holders. The likelihood of the Indian passport improving, given how little the Chinese passport has improved despite its economic progress, remains low.