The Weight of a Passport

Written by Joseph Scariano

1.5 ounces. That’s the weight of the US passport. Yet, in a day and age where visitation laws have become more complex and interrelated with a country’s power standing on the international playing field, we must ask the question: How much does a passport truly weigh?

As of us Fordham students embark on their summer break trips and make final decisions to study abroad across the world, one important aspect of traveling to these spots is always seemingly forgotten. Simply put, a passport is not just an ever-fitting key to the rest of the world. Think of it like this: every country is a padlock that can only be unlocked by certain keys (passports) and as time goes on, the lock is constantly being changed, upgraded and new security measures are being installed. Now, this may be an elementary trope that attempts to explain how spring breakers have access to tourist locations around the world but, assuredly, the nature of visitation is far from simple.

In order to understand the lock-and-key metaphor, an example of a group of friends from Fordham with various citizenships attempting to travel altogether for post-grad adventures can be used. Let’s say that this fictitious group of friends that all met during their formative days living in Alumni Court South wanted to visit Argentina, a country with cerulean seas and sun rays that can erase your winter paleness. Yet, upon preparing for their vacation they realized that it wouldn’t be quite as easy as imagined.

Should you have a friend in the group with a Polish passport, they would quickly find that a visa is required to visit Argentina and procuring this documentation could take weeks or even months. Didn’t plan far enough ahead of time? Tough luck.

So, what about your friend who is an international student from Mexico? Not only would they not be able to get a visa, but they’d be turned away at immigration in the airport regardless of any type of planning. The plain and simple fact is that your friend most likely poses zero threat to Argentina, but, due to foreign relations between the two countries, your friend is banned by law from entering. If this doesn’t seem fair to you, let’s take a stroll through history and ask the citizens of the Soviet Union how just their visitation laws were.

One of the neglected aspects of the reign of the Soviet Union is the movement of its citizens. As a matter of fact, the more accurate statement would be the dearth of movement around the conglomeration of countries. During the years of the Soviet Union, citizens were herded into cities approved by the government and forced to live within a certain mile-radius within the city limits.

Another law that was implemented during the years of the Soviet Union that is crucial to note is that there were no comings and goings of people; citizens were not able to leave the Soviet Union under any circumstance.

Of course, the example of the Soviet Union is an extreme one. However, it highlights how the movement and migration of people within certain countries and around the world is quite the privilege when the seemingly ever-present freedom is taken away.

So, we’ve come to the conclusion that a passport is a metaphorical key and only opens particular locks, but why is this the case? The answer to this question should not be surprising and, consequently, is the root to many of world’s most complex issues. It all comes down to one thing: money.

The United States is the perfect example of how money translates into power, which results in a strong passport. As much as American citizens might question it (especially during our current administration), the United States can be considered the foremost voice and has been continually ranked the most powerful country in the world.

Everyone knows that the United States military is formidable, but it is not common knowledge that America operates nearly 800 combat bases in over 70 countries worldwide. Compare that to the country with the next highest amount of bases around the world… the United Kingdom, with a whopping 12 military stations. Just imagine the immense international presence that comes with having that many military bases worldwide. Whether you view this as a proper safety precaution or a gross mismanagement of national funding, the title “America as the world’s watchdog” is proven to ring truer than ever with this knowledge.

It is pretty easy to see how money dictates the international dominance of the United States military and lends itself to a strong passport: With all that power, who is going to tell America and its citizens where they can and cannot go? Despite all of this, there is a hidden gem about how money dictates where the passport of a country allows its citizens to go.

Sure, a passport is a key that allows you through immigration at the airport of a foreign country, but what else does it unlock? Commerce.

By allowing American citizens access to be within certain borders, countries do so with the knowledge of what the fiscal implications will be. Foreign governments want to open their borders to Americans who will live in their country and open businesses, spend/invest their money in existing corporations, and bring over highly trained employees in the industries within their economy that are not as developed.

On the flip side of the coin, however, commerce that is reliant on the United States has been largely seen to be detrimental to certain economies. On the topic of spring breakers, a prime example of over-dependence are countries with economies that are bolstered by tourism. The pieces all come together when you consider the intersection between passports, money and tourist economies; It is important to be cognizant of the fact that American money has its drawbacks and oftentimes leaves countries in a vicious cycle of being unable to sustain themselves. Being conscious of how your buying and spending with the American dollar affects other people also begs the question of why we travel in the first place. Let’s dispel the notion that spring break will ever be a cultural experience where we enrich ourselves with knowledge about the destinations we are traveling to. However, it is absolutely crucial to be aware of the implications of pastimes that are pernicious to others and have been enabled by the United States over the course of time.  So, is the commercial aspect of the United States in terms of visitation really a hidden gem or a diamond in the rough?

A great resource for anyone who wants to learn more about the strength of passports worldwide should be directed to the Henley Passport Index. Based on what I’ve said so far, you would probably assume that a United States passport would grant you the most access to foreign countries. However, that title goes to our friends with Japanese passports. By a margin of 5, Japan has visa-free access to the most countries in the world with an astounding number of 190 countries. Alright, so the United States must be in second, right? Actually, there are 11 countries ahead of the United States, which leaves us tied for the sixth-highest accessibility rate to other countries around the globe with 185.

So, next time you’re sitting around with your friends from your freshman residence hall reminiscing over how crazy your taxi ride in Punta Cana was, just remember all the moving pieces on the political and economic playing field that must fall into place for your passport to allow you access to those fruity drinks and raging sunburns.