Member states: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, The Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo
With its members’ average score topping the average of any other REC in Africa, ECOWAS is the region in Africa that is most open to Africans moving freely. ECOWAS has taken a progressive stance on visa openness for decades, formalizing it in 1979 with a protocol on the free movement of persons, residence and establishment. Phase 1 of the protocol relates to the right of entry and has long been implemented. To a large extent, so too has Phase 2, which relates to the right to residency. In 2000, ECOWAS introduced a common passport that exempts its holders from needing visas to travel within the region. In 2011, ECOWAS began implementing the ECOVISA, a visa that grants visitors from outside ECOWAS access to the territory of all ECOWAS member states. In May 2023, the Seventh ECOWAS Heads of Immigration meeting recommended a comparative analysis of visa regimes to ensure that the ECOVISA follows best practices. Once fully implemented, the ECOVISA will greatly ease travel in the region. Seven of 2023’s top 10 performers are part of ECOWAS, including two of the four top performers: Benin and The Gambia, both of which have fully liberalized their visa regime. Apart from a change in Burkina Faso’s score, however (Burkina Faso relaxed its visa requirements for Moroccans), ECOWAS countries’ scores are unchanged.
In addition to boasting the highest average regional AVOI score on the continent, ECOWAS enjoys the highest visa-free reciprocity rate: the citizens of ECOWAS member states can enter 97% of all country destinations within ECOWAS visa-free, with the citizens of their host country doing likewise. This places ECOWAS far ahead of the EAC, the continent’s runner-up, where visa-free reciprocity is 71%. Broken down by country, ECOWAS’s 97% figure reflects the fact that the citizens of 10 of ECOWAS’s 15 member states do not require a visa to visit the territory of any other ECOWAS member, while the citizens of the remaining five states only need a visa to visit some countries within ECOWAS, not all. One such state is Sierra Leone, where reciprocity is lowest because Sierra Leone does not reciprocate visa-free entry with Ghana and Nigeria (it offers citizens of these countries a visa on arrival). No country in ECOWAS requires the citizen of another ECOWAS member state to obtain a visa ahead of travel.
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