The Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and income per capita indicators, which are used to rank countries into four tiers of human development.

Currently Norway is considered to be the most developed country in the world by that index, but looking at Visa requirements for Norwegian citizens one can see that not all countries are fully open to them. Since Norwegian citizens are extremely unlikely to overstay their visas or attempt to work undercover, why would any country ask them to get visas in advance?

This question is especially perplexing for countries such as China, which offer almost zero visas-on-arrival for Europeans.

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    Good luck getting an objective answer on this one. Or at least good luck getting the one, right, answer. Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 13:42
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    Let me play devil's advocate here: why should they grant visa-free based only on HDI? Sounds like "First World Problems" to me. Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 14:32
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    @Mindwin to attract more tourists, investment, international businesses, as well as reduce the workload of their foreign consulates.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 15:00
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    How is HDI relevant? Just because someone comes from a more developed country (and HDI is highly arguable as a measure for that) does not mean that he doesn't want to immigrate. For example one might make money in Norway and then decide to retire in an African country were his money is worth a lot, so that he can buy a huge house with servitude etc.
    – Bakuriu
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 12:46
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    @Bakuriu Usually, those people would be granted permanent residency anyway - lots of third-world countries are perfectly happy to have rich foreigners emigrate and throw around lots of money. Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 5:28

8 Answers 8


As a rule of thumb, the worse the visa regime, the worse the country's regime. It's the tinpot dictatorships of the world (Turkmenistan, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Angola, etc) that make it the hardest to get visas and watch visitors most closely, not because they're particularly concerned about Norwegians stealing their jobs, but because they're afraid that they're actually {journalists, dangerous infidels, disguised CIA spies, etc} out to {steal their military secrets, report on human rights issues, lead the faithful astray, steal their women, etc}. Or, in the case of the United States, suffering from bed-wetting hysteria about foreign terrorists.

China is somewhere in the middle of the spectrum: not particularly bad as far as visas or regimes are concerned, but still pretty paranoid about foreigners snooping about where they shouldn't (eg. Tibet without a tour guide) and with a strong preference for more state control rather than less. Inertia is also a factor: no bureaucrat ever got fired for imposing more restrictions, whereas letting a bad apple in may be a career-limiting move.

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    – Mark Mayo
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 13:39
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    Edits are for tidying, grammar, etc, but NOT for changing the intent of the OP's post. Please do not engage in pointless edit wars. For those intent on discussing it, please engage on the relevant meta post, not by nitpicking or calling names on here.
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 13:40


Many Latin American countries charge reciprocity fees from USA citizens on rationale that their citizens have to pay same fees when applying for visas to USA.

Russian Federation for example goes further and tries to match visa conditions both ways. Then your answer would be: they require citizens of states with high HDI to get visas because countries with high HDI demand their citizens get visas.

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    I believe reciprocity is an important issue. It is one way to bring the attention of e.g. USA tourists to the expense and inconvenience the USA imposes on tourists who would like to visit the USA. Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 14:16
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    @PatriciaShanahan The USA only brings that expense and inconvenience on tourists from places where a very high percentage of those applying for tourist entry are doing so fraudulently with the intent of overstaying. It's much more accommodating to tourists from places from which there isn't much incidence of such abuse. This is not unique to the USA, by the way.
    – reirab
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 22:01
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    The reciprocal costs of visas to visit other countries is just a price citizens of countries that charge a lot for visas should expect. Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 0:10
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    @reirab "A very high percentage"?? The threshold is based on refused visas (not all of which will mean ill intent) and has to be quite low for them to be accepted for visa-free entry. Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 22:54
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    @alamar, Why, Schengen visa refusal rates for Russian citizens have been around (if not below) 1% for nearly a decade now.
    – ach
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 10:20

It's a good question, and I've often wondered this myself. Alamar's answer is a big part of it. I'm not sure if it adds up to much, but here are a few other things I can think of:


Countries may wish to exercise a certain amount of control regardless. For example, India practices stringent screening of people of Pakistani origin (Even third generation immigrants.) There's even a special field in the visa application form asking if you have Pakistani roots, and the processing time is much longer for people of Pakistani origin. Many nationalities are eligible to apply for e-visa online, but people of Pakistani origin (regardless of citizenship) are not eligible for e-visa at all. It also appears that a great many of these people are in fact rejected.

To follow up on your example, Norway has roughly 40.000 people of Pakistani origin. (And many more from similar countries.) A great many of them are Norwegian citizens. If India was to remove the visa requirement for all Norwegian citizens, they would lose the ability to additionally screen these Norwegians of Pakistani origin. It would also make it much, much more difficult to reject them. Whether this additional screening and rejection is useful or not is a separate matter, but it's a fact that India does practice it.

Blacklisted people, and people who have been previously denied entry

There's also the additional motive of making it easier to enforce blacklists. Let's say an individual has been caught overstaying or committing crimes previously (maybe even in another, cooperating country) and is blacklisted in some way. He can then be denied a visa. If the person could simply arrive in the airport, it would be different. They may catch him at immigration, but it may not be convenient to check everyone on the spot at immigration. And if a blacklisted person does show up, the country may have to pay for the flight ticket (and other administrative costs) to have him deported back to his country of origin. Neither is it a good practice to return people who have spent much time and money on their trip. Stories of such (quite possibly totally innocent) people being arbitrarily rejected at immigration and deported does not give your country a good name internationally, and does not encourage tourism. Would you want to spend your money and holidays traveling to a country that may or may not accept you when you arrive? What if you even risked having to pay your own expensive deportation flight ticked home? No matter the probability, this would not encourage tourism to that country. It's much easier for the country to reject people during a visa application process.

Political reasons

My mother works for a Norwegian publisher. This publisher publishes, among other things, many books and magazines about geo-politics and regional politics. Some of these books/magazines have written about certain countries in less than favorable ways. After such publishings, there have been instances where people employed in that company could no longer get visas for those countries. (Even if they said they were just going for tourism.) If those countries allowed all Norwegians access without them having to apply for visas first, that would severely limit their ability to refuse entry to such people. Again, it's much harder to turn people away at the border.

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    You can be asked the same questions when arriving by air. E.g. Israel has additional security screening for visa-free passengers.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 11:05
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    @JonathanReez You can, but it's much more difficult to turn someone away once they have traveled for a whole day and arrived in the airport. It's much more convenient to do it via the e-Visa process. If you get a bunch of Pakistani-Norwegians arriving in Delhi, and you decide to refuse them entry, you have a much bigger hassle on your hands. You might have to deport them. Administrative resources. You probably have to pay their flight tickets for deportation. All of that could have been avoided simply by refusing their e-Visa application while they were still in Norway.
    – Fiksdal
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 11:10
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    @pnuts Evidently India does want to screen them. I'm not saying that that's necessarily reasonable, I'm just saying that's what they do. And it's not a once in a blue moon event. India rejects plenty of people of Pakistani origin. Imagine having to stop all those people in the airport and deporting them. If they want to screen them, they will have to either to it in advance, or at the airport when they arrive. I'm saying it's easier to do it in advance.
    – Fiksdal
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 11:47
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    @Fiksdal "You probably have to pay their flight tickets for deportation" - I doubt that, cf. travel.stackexchange.com/questions/23622/… Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 11:50
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    @Fiksdal Many (most?) countries require the airline on which the person arrived to remove them if they are rejected entry. It's then up to the airline to attempt to recover those costs from the person if they so choose.
    – reirab
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 22:06

What makes you think people from HDI countries wouldn't want to work in another country? Not everything is about maximum profit. As a Dutch guy living in Bali (Indonesia) I see plenty of people from well-off countries that still like to live and work in Indonesia instead, many of them on visas that don't allow this. So coming from a fortunate country doesn't mean that people don't have to be checked at all.

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    The number and percentage of Westerners who abuse the visa system is very low. On the other hand the number of Westerners who avoid a country completely because it requires a visa is quite high.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 12:55
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    Do you have a source for that quote? Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 13:02
  • This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. - From Review
    – JoErNanO
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 13:07
  • @JoErNanO even though it does ask something from the author (though I'd say the way I phrased it is more to make him question himself), it also answers the question. Which is that coming from a high HDI country doesn't mean people won't work illegally or won't abuse visa's in a different way. Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 13:08
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    @JonathanReez> although there may be less incentive to working in poorer countries, it's also much easier to do for a Westerner. Travel is relatively cheaper, you usually have higher education so you have major advantage finding a job, and returning if it goes wrong is easier. Plus, if you get caught for overstay or illegal work, you're in much less trouble when carrying a passport from an influent country. Did I mention it's also much safer? I've not heard any story of Western immigrants being abused by local mafias in poorer countries, while the opposite hits the news on a daily basis.
    – spectras
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 13:35

A consideration I don't see mentioned yet is that most repressive governments maintain control over their populations by controlling the flow of information to their citizens - this most visibly achieved by state controlled media and internet access, so that the citizens of these countries only hear what the government wants them to hear. In many of the world's worst places, an important aspect of this information strategy is convincing the populace that they're actually better off than the rest of the world. Allowing large numbers of foreign visitors into the country, particularly those from relatively wealthy nations, is problematic because what these foreigners do and say can't be controlled like the rest of the media, and even their mere existence undermines the illusion that the government uses to keep control over its people. Using visas to limit foreign interactions with their populace is a component of controlling what information their citizens have access to.

I'm struck in particular by the example of North Korea, whose citizens are indoctrinated to believe that their country, and they themselves, are relatively well off, despite rampant starvation and poverty. Seeing (let alone interacting with) millions of fat tourists traveling their country with unimaginable luxuries like multiple sets of clothing and cameras and phones and computers (and so on) would seriously undermine the state propaganda about the relative condition of the native populace, and by extension, the prestige, power and benevolence of the DPRK government. This fiction plays an important role in keeping their population compliant, and keeping them in power, so they're not about to jeopardize it for a few tourist dollars, especially considering that those tourist dollars wouldn't add noticeably to the wealth and power of those in charge anyway.

  • I think there are a few countries, North Korea high among them, that do not want visitors "poking around in their business" and tightly control anybody coming into the country. While they may accept some tourists, the process is strict and people are not generally free to explore as they please. But there are still a number of counties that do not so tightly restrict access to information (uncensored internet access, international satellite television generally available, etc...) that still require visas (or e-visas) for, say, Norwegians. Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 23:20
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    @pnuts North Korea is far-and-away the best contemporary example, but they're not the only ones. Not to mention that this isn't something they came up with on their own - it's the same strategy the Soviets pursued for several decades, until they sealed their own fate with Glasnost, and we all know how well that worked out for them. Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 23:22

This is an interesting question and I'd like to throw in one more answer just because it hasn't been directly stated yet (though implied in many of the comments).

As others have said, it's hard if not impossible to completely answer this question with objective sources. Visas are granted/denied for lots of reasons, so trying to pin it down to a single factor (or even a dominant one) is probably not possible. Every country reserves the right to screen those who seek to enter it, and each likely has its own set of reasons for doing so. I'll give a couple examples from personal experience.

1) USA

The US imports a lot of skilled workers, especially in the tech industry. I happen to work with a lot of people from different countries, and invariably, those hailing from Europe/UK have a fairly easy time getting in. They make great candidates for tech work because they typically come from high-HDI areas where they've received a good education and have financial backing, and their skills are in demand. On the flip side, some of my Indian coworkers have had lots of trouble getting visas, because so many Indians want to come to the US but in many cases don't have the education or finances to match their European counterparts. This all falls in line with your proposition that visas are HDI-related in some way.

2) KSA

Saudi Arabia is known for having some of the strictest visa processing in the world, and is also very high on the HDI scale. But they grant far more visas to laborers from low-HDI countries because they have so much demand for manual labor. Additionally, while I was working there, a government official in the Netherlands decided to make some public slurs about Saudis, and suddenly my Dutch coworkers found it much harder to renew their visas and travel about the country. Some of them even got stuck in Bahrain, being denied reentry until they applied for a new visa. Things like that are clearly not related to a country's HDI.


Each country's motivations are different, and often multi-faceted. It's probably not possible to tie visa privileges to HDI in any way that broadly applies to the world.

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    Good answer, but the Q was more about travel visas and less about work visas
    – blackbird
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 20:31
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    @blackbird I actually don't see where that's specified in the question, the way I read it, it applies to visas in general. Unfortunately I don't have much personal experience with travel visas so I can't speak too much to that issue.
    – thanby
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 21:40

It seems possible that you may not be asking quite the right question. Many countries require visas from many people. If you squint, you can see some trends like people from really poor countries having a generally harder time travelling elsewhere or authoritarian regimes being more restrictive regarding all movement in and out of the country but in general, requiring some form of prior verification had become the default everywhere.

There are now two big blocks of relatively open countries between which people can come and go both ways increasingly easily (that would be Europe and Latin America) but elsewhere visas are very often required, even for short visits (and in fact, sometimes being tightened or reintroduced under the guise of "electronic authorisation" systems like there is now in the US, Australia, Canada, etc.)

Now, it's true that a number of countries like Thailand or Turkey do have a pretty liberal visa regime for foreigners from richer countries without too much concern for reciprocity or abuse of the system (and, in spite of what you may believe, overstay from people from rich countries is common). The reason for that is pretty straightforward: Tourism is a major industry and making it easy for people to come for a vacation is a deliberate strategy for these countries. But that's what it is: A specific reason to drop visa requirements, not the other way around.


It is noteworthy that many of the countries that are "stickiest" about visas for Norwegians are themselves less developed countries. Basically, these may be countries that are suspicious of "anybody."

The "one" thing that Norway lacks is geopolitical clout, in the manner of the United States, or even China. It is this last factor that may "open doors" to less developed countries for holders of these passports.

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