The COVID-19 pandemic has substantially reduced cross-border travel as countries place restrictions on movement to manage the health crisis. However, the costs of these restrictions are clear, with impacts on the global economy, supply chains, and industries such as tourism and transit. As countries begin to rebuild, the African Development Bank’s fifth annual Visa Openness Index Report, released on December 11, 2020, argues that increased open borders and cross-country mobility will be all the more important for economic recovery by allowing Africans to travel, invest, and do business. To provide data on these important components of economic recovery, the index measures how open African countries are with regards to visa requirements and aims to show which African countries facilitate travel for citizens of other countries and how.
Figure 1 shows that African borders have become increasingly open over the past five years. In 2020, Africans did not need a visa to travel to 26 percent of other African countries and could obtain a visa on arrival in 28 percent of African countries. Similarly, in 2020, Africans needed visas to travel to only 46 percent of other African countries. Overall, the most visa-open countries are found in East and West Africa—these two regions accounted for 80 percent of the top 20 most visa-open African countries in 2020. The report further shares that three countries, The Gambia, Seychelles, and Benin, now offer visa-free access to all African visitors.
Figure 1. Change in Visa Openness scores, 2016-2020, %
Source: African Development Bank, Visa Openness Index Report, 2020.
Substantial progress has also been made over the past five years in the use of eVisas. According to the authors, eVisas are a useful method for streamlining travel processes and facilitating visitor access: Going digital and using cutting-edge technology can speed up and secure entry for travelers, which will play a key role as countries respond to a changing travel climate due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Figure 2 shows that 24 African countries—nearly half of all African countries—offered eVisas for African travelers in 2020. This number is a substantial increase from 2016, when only nine countries offered them. Furthermore, the report finds that 10 out of the top 20 most visa-open countries also offered eVisas for travelers.
Figure 2. Progress in use of eVisas, 2016-2020
Source: African Development Bank, Visa Openness Index Report, 2020
The report argues that there is still significant scope for African countries to become more open by, for example, offering visas on arrival for African visitors. Increased openness and integration can help develop regional tourism, bolstering an industry that plays a pivotal role in economic growth in many African countries but that has suffered a severe shock from COVID-19. For more on the potential of tourism for Africa’s economic growth and job creation, see “Industries without smokestacks: Firm characteristics and constraints to growth” by John Page.