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Passport privilege entrenches inequality

  • 12 December 2017


The world is often characterised as porous and easy to manoeuvre in this age of unparalleled technology and a globalised economy. But it's only ever been this way to people who have a combination of a particular passport and cultural heritage, particularly in settler colonial nations such as Australia.  

In the 2017 annual Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index, Australia was ranked as having the seventh best passport in the world for travellers according to the number of countries its citizens can access visa-free. Germany topped the index, followed by Sweden and then Denmark, Finland, Italy, Spain and the United States, who each came in at a collective third. The most restrictive passports, wherein their owners had the least freedom to travel, were Pakistani, Iraqi and Afghani ones.

Although the Australian passport is an advantageous one to have on the world stage, it is a highly political, exclusionary document in itself. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are regularly denied full citizenship on account of them not having access to birth certificates, which in turn prevents them from being able to apply for an Australian passport, while many reject Australian nationality and citizenship as an act of resistance and choose to use an Aboriginal passport instead.

Passport privilege is tangible, but merely having the passport of a Western first-world country doesn't grant you the right to embark on footloose travel and living adventures in every other country — an oft overlooked reality that was underlined by mechanical engineer and writer Yassmin Abdel-Magied, an Australian of Sudanese background, in an interview with Buzzfeed Australia.

'The being-born-in-Sudan thing and having it in your passport makes a difference ... People talk about [the world] being globalised and borderless — it's only globalised and borderless if you have the right passport.'

Perhaps at no time was this more apparent than during Donald Trump's 90-day visa ban on six majority-Muslim countries including Sudan, which meant Abdel-Magied wasn't able to go on a planned speaking tour in the US due to her dual citizenship.

Any mention of dual citizenship is likely to elicit a derisive eye-roll in light of the bureaucratic crisis that forced many MPs to resign from Australian Parliament due to their previously unstated dual citizenship status. But this dichotomy holds concrete ramifications for people of colour beyond their ability to serve in parliament. Acutely aware of any dual citizenship status they may have, unlike the many white MPs who were forced