Digital Health Credentials Hold Promise for Global Mobility to Safely Return to Pre-Pandemic Levels, But Challenges Leave their Potential Unfilled
WASHINGTON — While international movements of all types continue to recover from the pandemic-induced near-freeze experienced in 2020, governments have yet to fully tap the potential of digital health credentials to restart mobility safely and efficiently, a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report argues. The lack of global coordination has resulted in a fragmented landscape of digital health credentials, sometimes known as vaccine passports, that are not technically integrated or comprehensive, with some domestic credential systems closed to international travellers.
Since early 2021, policymakers have increasingly used digital health credentials both for international mobility, to allow people to travel with fewer or no restrictions, as well as for domestic purposes, to give vaccinated or tested residents access to services and venues such as concerts and restaurants. From the EU Digital COVID Certificate to North America’s SMART Health Cards, the African Union’s Trusted Travel portal and the Digital Infrastructure for Open Credentialing (DIVOC) used by India, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, multiple credential systems have emerged across the globe.
The use of these credentials can minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19 by verifying vaccination, testing and/or recovery status. It also can make travel quicker and easier, since digital credentials can be automatically verified while paper credentials require manual inspection.
However, use of the digital credentials has yet to reach its full potential in part due to ineffective border policies, lack of supporting infrastructure and underdeveloped regional and global coordination on recognition of credentials across governments. And even as the use of digital credentials becomes more common, much of their impact—for better or worse—on different populations remains unexplored.
The report, Digital Health Credentials and COVID-19: Can Vaccine and Testing Requirements Restart Global Mobility?, examines the implications of these credentials for international travel and domestic access to services and venues. It explores what the use of these credentials could mean for specific mobile groups, including tourists and business travelers, labor migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, unauthorized migrants and students. It also offers policy recommendations to facilitate mobility and minimize risks for people on the move, along with key principles that should underpin long-term planning around digital credentials.
“If the use of such tools continues to increase, so too will the need to address their potential to exclude populations without access to COVID-19 vaccines or digital technology (such as smartphones),” writes author Lawrence Huang. “Ultimately, these credentials are only one tool in the pandemic response and should still be complemented by other public-health measures, from quarantine and rapid testing on arrival, to physical distancing and ventilation.”
Among the questions that remain unanswered is whether a single credential system will become the global standard, if a global coordinator will emerge and whether digital verification will expand to include testing requirements, not just proof of vaccination.
The report offers a range of recommendations, including increasing the use of predeparture tentative approval of travelers’ credentials to reduce the risk that a person will be denied entry at the border. It also recommends that governments work with travel agents, universities, employers and other relevant stakeholders to integrate into domestic credential systems and incentivize vaccination and testing for often-excluded populations: Those who lack standard identity or other documentation, do not speak the local language or simply have been vaccinated in another country. The report also notes that smart investments in digital health credentials now may be key to preparedness and responses for future pandemics and other public health crises.
Read the report here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/digital-health-credentials-covid19.
For all MPI analysis, data and commentary on the pandemic, visit: www.migrationpolicy.org/topics/coronavirus.
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