In the terminology of the United States insular areas, a Commonwealth is a type of organized but unincorporated dependent territory.

The definition of "Commonwealth" according to current U.S. State Department policy (as codified in the department's Foreign Affairs Manual) reads: "The term 'Commonwealth' does not describe or provide for any specific political status or relationship. It has, for example, been applied to both states and territories. When used in connection with areas under U.S. sovereignty that are not states, the term broadly describes an area that is self-governing under a constitution of its adoption and whose right of self-government will not be unilaterally withdrawn by Congress".[1]

There are currently two United States insular areas classified with the status of commonwealth, the Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico.

Current commonwealths[]

Commonwealth of Puerto Rico[]

Of the current U.S. insular areas, the term was first used by Puerto Rico in 1952 as its formal name in English ("Commonwealth of Puerto Rico"). The formal name in Spanish for Puerto Rico is "Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico,".

Despite the Spanish translation of the term "commonwealth", Puerto Rico's relationship with United States is not a Compact of Free Association (which is the case for the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands). As sovereign states, these islands have full right to conduct their own foreign relations, while the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is part of the United States as a territory. ”[2]

The territory was organized by the Foraker Act in 1900, which was amended by the Jones-Shafroth Act in 1917. The drafting of the Constitution of Puerto Rico by its residents was authorized by Congress in 1951, and the result approved in 1952. Puerto Rico have held several referendum with the options of U.S. statehood, independence and a enhanced more autonomous commonwealth in permanent union. Of all three, the commonwealth option has won.

Judge Magruder's observations in Mora v. Mejias, 206 F.2d 377 (CA1 1953):

"[I]t may be that the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico - `El Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico' in the Spanish version - organized as a body politic by the people of Puerto Rico under their own constitution, pursuant to the terms of the compact offered to them in Pub. L. 600, and by them accepted, is a State within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. 2281. The preamble to this constitution refers to the Commonwealth . . . which `in the exercise of our natural rights, we [the people of Puerto Rico] now create within our union with the United States of America.' Puerto Rico has thus not become a State in the federal Union like the 48 States, but it would seem to have become a State within a common and accepted meaning of the word. Cf. State of Texas v. White, 1868, 7 Wall. 700, 721. . . . It is a political entity created by the act and with the consent of the people of Puerto Rico and joined in union with the United States of America under the terms of the compact".

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has a grade of sovereingty equal as a State of the Union. The residents of Puerto Rico are United States citizens and they are represented in Congress by a Resident Commissioner with voice but without vote. Puerto Ricans don't pay federal income taxes and consider Puerto Rico as a nation different from the US. Puerto Rico has sports sovereingty with their own national olympic team and also participate in different International Organizations such as CEPAL, CARICOM, UNESCO, OEC.

Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands[]

In 1976, Congress approved the mutually negotiated Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) in Political Union with the United States.[3] Prior to November 28, 2009, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) did not apply in the CNMI. Rather, a separate immigration system existed in the CNMI. This system was established under the Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Political Union with the United States of America (“Covenant”), which was signed in 1975 and codified as 48 U.S.C. § 1801. The Covenant was unilaterally amended by the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 CNRA approved by the U.S. Congress on May 8, 2008, thus altering the CNMI’s immigration system. Specifically, CNRA § 702(a) amended the Covenant to state that “the provisions of the ‘immigration laws’ (as defined in section 101(a)(17) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(17))) shall apply to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.”2 Further, under CNRA § 702(a), the “immigration laws,” as well as the amendments to the Covenant, “shall . . . supersede and replace all laws, provisions, or programs of the Commonwealth relating to the admission of aliens and the removal of aliens from the Commonwealth.”[4]

Transition to U.S. Immigration Law began November 28, 2009 in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). CNMI's immigration laws have been replaced by the INA and other U.S. immigration laws.[5] [6]

Representation in Congress[]

See: United States House of Representatives#Apportionment

Former commonwealths[]

Commonwealth of the Philippines[]

The Commonwealth of the Philippines was an insular area that held commonwealth status from March 24, 1934 until July 4, 1946. The United States recognized the future independence of the Philippines in 1934 but called for a transitional period from 1934 until 1946 when the Philippines became fully independent.[7]

See also[]

  • Politics of Puerto Rico
  • Politics of the Northern Mariana Islands
  • President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status
  • Territories of the United States
  • U.S. state
  • Commonwealth (U.S. state)


This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at Commonwealth (U.S. insular area). The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.