An insular area of the United States is a U.S. territory that is neither a part of one of the 50 states nor of a Federal district. Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution grants to United States Congress the responsibility of overseeing these territories,[a] of which as of 2018 there are 14, 3 in the Caribbean Sea and 11 in the Pacific Ocean. These territories are classified by whether they are incorporated (by Congress extending the full body of the Constitution to the territory as it applies to the several states) and whether they have an organized territorial government established by the U.S. Congress through an Organic Act. All territories but one are unincorporated, and all but four are considered to be unorganized. Five U.S. territories have a permanent, nonmilitary population. Each of them has a civilian government, a constitution, and enjoys some degree of local political autonomy.
Congress has extended citizenship rights by birth to all inhabited territories except American Samoa, and these citizens may vote and run for office in any U.S. jurisdiction in which they are residents. The people of American Samoa are U.S. nationals by place of birth, or they are U.S. citizens by parentage, or naturalization after residing in a State for three months. Nationals are free to move around and seek employment within the United States without immigration restrictions, but cannot vote or hold office outside American Samoa.
Residents of the five major populated insular areas do not pay U.S. federal income taxes but are required to pay other U.S. federal taxes such as import and export taxes, federal commodity taxes, social security taxes, etc. Individuals working for the federal government pay federal income taxes while all residents are required to pay federal payroll taxes (Social Security and Medicare). According to IRS Publication 570, income from other U.S. Pacific Ocean insular areas (Howland, Baker, Jarvis, Johnston, Midway, Palmyra, and Wake Islands, and Kingman Reef) is fully taxable as income of United States residents.
The U.S. State Department also uses the term insular area to refer not only to 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, and full responsibility for their military defense rests with the United States, they are legally distinct from the United States and their inhabitants are neither U.S. citizens nor nationals.
Current U.S. insular areas by status
The following islands, or island groups, are considered insular areas:
Organized incorporated territories
Unorganized incorporated territories
- Palmyra Atoll U.S. Territory of Palmyra Island (Mostly owned by federal government and Nature Conservancy; administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Organized unincorporated territories
- Guam (organized under the Guam Organic Act of 1950)
- Northern Mariana Islands (Commonwealth, organized under 1975 covenant)
- Puerto Rico (Commonwealth, organized under the Puerto Rico Federal Relations Act of 1950)
- United States Virgin Islands (organized under the 1954 Revised Organic Act of the Virgin Islands)
Unorganized unincorporated territories
- American Samoa (self-governing even though officially unorganized and under authority of U.S. Department of the Interior)
- Baker Island
- Howland Island
- Jarvis Island
- Johnston Atoll
- Kingman Reef
- Midway Atoll (administered as a National Wildlife Refuge)
- Navassa Island (disputed with Haiti)
- Wake Island (disputed with Marshall Islands)
- Serranilla Bank (disputed with Colombia, Jamaica and Nicaragua)
- Bajo Nuevo Bank (disputed with Colombia, Honduras and Jamaica)
Freely associated states
- Federated States of Micronesia (sovereign state in current Compact of Free Association with the United States, which provides national defense, funding, and access to social services—was formerly in U.S.-administered United Nations Trust Territory)
- Marshall Islands (sovereign state in current Compact of Free Association with the United States, which provides national defense, funding, and access to social services—was formerly in U.S.-administered United Nations Trust Territory)
- Palau (sovereign state in current Compact of Free Association with the United States, which provides national defense, funding, and access to social services—was formerly in U.S.-administered United Nations Trust Territory)
- Panama Canal Zone (acquired through 1903 Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty; abolished October 1, 1979, by 1977 Torrijos–Carter Treaties[b])
- Philippines (acquired through 1898 Treaty of Paris; U.S. sovereignty relinquished and Republic of the Philippines independence recognized July 4, 1946, by the Treaty of Manila)
- Dependent territory
- Guano Islands Act
- Guantanamo Bay
- Insular Cases
- Political divisions of the United States
- Territorial acquisitions of the United States
- Territories of the United States on stamps
- “Definitions of Insular Area Political Organizations”. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior. Retrieved March 3, 2018.
- “Definitions of Insular Area Political Organizations”. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior. Retrieved March 11, 2018.
- PBS Newshour, “American Samoans don’t have right to U.S. citizenship”, Associated Press, June 5, 2015, viewed August 13, 2015.
- US Department of Interior. “Insular Area Summary for American Samoa” Archived 2015-08-20 at the Wayback Machine. viewed August 13, 2015.
- “Puerto Ricans pay import/export taxes”. Stanford.wellsphere.com. Archived from the original on April 1, 2010. Retrieved August 14, 2010.
- U.S. State Dept. “Foreign Relations of the United States”. Retrieved May 18, 2016.
The people of Puerto Rico will continue to be exempt from Federal income taxes on the income they derive from sources within Puerto Rico, and into their treasury, for appropriation and expenditure as their legislature may decide, will be deposited the proceeds of United States internal revenue taxes collected on articles produced in Puerto Rico and the proceeds of United States tariffs and customs collected on foreign merchandise entering Puerto Rico.
- “Puerto Ricans pay federal commodity taxes”. Stanford.wellsphere.com. Archived from the original on 2010-04-01. Retrieved 2011-10-30.
- “‘Topic Number 903 – U.S. Employment Tax in Puerto Rico‘“. Irs.gov. December 18, 2009. Retrieved January 11, 2019.
- Publication 570 (PDF). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Internal Revenue Service. 2017. Retrieved April 12, 2018.
- Office of Insular Affairs
- Department of the Interior Definitions of Insular Area Political Types
- Rubin, Richard, “The Lost Islands”, The Atlantic Monthly, February 2001
- Chapter 7: Puerto Rico and the Outlying Areas, U.S. Census Bureau, Geographic Areas Reference Manual