2019 COFA Meeting in Kolonia, Micronesia. [State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain]

What are the Compacts of Free Association?

The Pacific

The United States established the Compacts of Free Association (COFA) with the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI) in 1986, and with the Republic of Palau (RP) in 1994. The United States and the COFA states have close economic and military partnerships, promoting and maintaining shared interests in the Pacific region.

The COFA states, comprising groups of small islands, emerged from the dissolution of the United Nations’ Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTP), which had been administered by the United States since the end of World War II. COFA states are independent countries with their own elected governments. They send ambassadors and embassies abroad and develop their own domestic policies. Citizens of COFA states can, however, live, travel, and work in the United States without a visa. Additionally, these countries utilize US dollars as their financial currency.

As part of the signed compacts, the United States bears the obligation and full responsibility to protect COFA states from all forms of aggression and terrorism. The United States also possesses the exclusive right to establish, operate, and administer military posts in the islands and utilize resources for military purposes subject to joint rules and regulations. Before 1996, COFA citizens were eligible to apply and receive selected federal grants and programs as lawfully present non-citizens, but the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) removed those benefits, including Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

In addition, the United States provides economic assistance to COFA states, allocating an annual budget to help fund government operations, including the construction and improvement of public facilities and infrastructure, and the expansion of health, education, and social services.

A major initiative of the COFA focuses on environmental protection. The United States has collaborated with COFA states in gathering data and studying the impacts of human activity on land and sea resources. Likewise, stronger partnerships have been established to formulate and implement policies against practices and activities destructive to natural habitats.

Jonathan Baldoza and Ryan Roden are participants in the East-West Center in Washington's Young Professional's Program.