Insular area

An insular area is a United States territory, that is neither a part of one of the fifty U.S. states nor the District of Columbia, the federal district of the United States.[1] They are called "insular" from the Latin word insula ("island") and because they were once administered by the War Department's Bureau of Insular Affairs, now the Office of Insular Affairs at the Interior Department. The term insular possession is also sometimes used, but has fallen out of favor.

Because those insular areas that are inhabited are unincorporated territories, their native-born inhabitants are not constitutionally entitled to United States citizenship, under the Citizenship Clause. However, Congress has extended citizenship rights to all inhabited territories and these citizens may vote and run for office in any U.S. jurisdiction in which they are residents. The sole exception is American Samoa, whose people are U.S. nationals, but not U.S. citizens; they are free to move around and seek employment within the whole United States without immigration restrictions, but cannot vote or hold office outside of American Samoa.

Residents of insular areas do not pay U.S. federal taxes, but most pay taxes to the territorial governments, at the same rates as U.S. federal income taxes. Insular areas do not choose electors in U.S. presidential elections nor do they elect voting members of the U.S. Congress. Goods manufactured in insular areas of the United States can be labeled "Made in USA."

The U.S. State Department uses the term insular area to refer not only to these territories under the sovereignty of the United States, but also those independent nations that have signed a Compact of Free Association with the United States. While these nations participate in many otherwise domestic programs, they are legally distinct from the United States and their inhabitants are not United States citizens or nationals.


List and status of insular areas

Several islands in the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea are considered insular areas of the United States.



Along with Palmyra Atoll, these form the United States Minor Outlying Islands:

From July 18, 1947 until October 1, 1994, the U.S. administered the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, but later entered into a new political relationship with all four political units (one of which is the Northern Mariana Islands listed above, the others being the three freely associated states noted below).

Freely associated states

The freely associated states are the three sovereign states with which the United States has entered into a Compact of Free Association. They have not been within U.S. jurisdiction since they became sovereign; however, many considered them to be dependent territories of the United States, until each was admitted to the United Nations in the 1990s.

Former territories

See also

Notes and references

  1. . . U.S. Department of the Interior. 2007-01-11. Retrieved 2008-11-09.