The North American Free Movement of Citizens (FMC) Agreement:
A Proposal for Recognizing the Rights of Citizens of the NAFTA Signatory Countries


Richard D. Vogel

Copyright © 2010 by Richard D. Vogel

Permission to copy granted

En Español


[Author's note: Prevailing neoliberal economic policies allow transnational corporations to use international borders to capture labor markets and control the migration of labor, enabling big capital to pit the workers of one nation against those of another -- a zero-sum game for all working people.  This fundamental predicament of labor in the modern world, which is creating historic levels of inequality, can only be contested by linking the demand for the free movement of labor to the established practices of free trade.  The North American Free Movement of Citizens (FMC) Agreement voices the demand for recognizing the free movement of labor in the territories of the NAFTA signatory nations.]



The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the official framework of neoliberal free trade policy in North America, contains a fatal flaw -- while the tri-lateral agreement opened markets across the continent and offered token provisions for the protection of labor and the environment -- it totally ignored the overall impact of free trade policies on the working citizens of Mexico, Canada, and the USA.  NAFTA has facilitated capital's control of the continental labor market at a high cost for working people.  The resulting trend of growing inequality in North America is threatening the stability of all three nations.  Failure to confront this trend will ensure an even worse future for working people.

After a decade and a half, the impact of NAFTA on working people has become clear.  The opening of Mexican markets to highly subsidized agribusiness in the North displaced millions of peasants and agricultural workers and sparked the largest migration of workers and their families in history.  The displaced workers flocked to the maquiladorasi in Mexico, and after the local demand for workers was filled, the migrants pushed on across the border, looking for work in the US and Canada.   Capital has exploited this colossal migration on both sides of the border with the following results:

  • The access to a captive and abundant cheap labor force in Mexico has allowed transnational corporations to extract super-profits in factories south of the border.
  • Offshoring and threats of offshoring jobs from the US and Canada to Mexico have undermined the position of labor vis-à-vis capital in the North.
  • The informal onshoring of labor from Mexico to the USA, facilitated through selective enforcement of immigration law during the 1990s and early 2000s, has further undercut labor in the North. The widespread exploitation of the illegal labor pool in the US was a key factor in the post-2001, so-called "jobless" economic recovery.
  • The illegal status of a large proportion of the migrant labor force from Mexico in the North alienates individuals, divides families, destabilizes communities, and undercuts all labor in the US and Canada.   Labor solidarity is virtually impossible in nations that criminalize migrant workers.

The current economic recession and the aging of the native work force in the North are fueling a growing demand for low-cost labor in the USA and Canada.  In this context, the immigration reform currently promoted by business interests will be disastrous for working people -- the increase of temporary worker visas or adoption of a guest worker program will leave control of the labor market in the hands of big capital and will exacerbate the problems already plaguing workers and their families under NAFTA.

The only way to break the stranglehold of neoliberal free trade policies on working people in North America is by allowing the free movement of labor.   This can be done by recognizing the right of citizens of the NAFTA signatory nations to move and reside freely within the territories of the signatory states.

International precedent for recognizing the right of the freedom of movement of citizens in free trade zones was established in European Parliament and Council Directive 2004/38/EC.  The purpose of the FMC Agreement is to recognize the same right for working people and their families in North America.


The proposed agreement

The (proposed) North American Free Movement of Citizens (FMC) Agreement recognizes the right of citizens of the NAFTA signatory nations and their family members to move and reside freely within the free trade zone established by that agreement.

General provisions

The proposed agreement specifies:

  • the conditions under which citizensii of signatory nations and their familiesiii can exercise their right to move and reside freely within the territory of the member nations;
  • the right of permanent residence;
  • restrictions on the above rights on grounds of public policy, public safety, or public health.

The right to move and the right of residence for up to six months

All citizens of the NAFTA signatory nations have the right to enter another signatory nation by virtue of having an identity card or valid passport.  Entry or exit visas are not required.

Family members who do not have the nationality of a signatory nation have the same rights as the citizen who they have accompanied.

For stays of six months or less, the only requirement on NAFTA citizens and their families is that they possess a valid identity document or passport.  Host nations may require visiting citizens to register their presence in the country within a reasonable period.

The right of residence for more than six months

The right of residence for more than six months is subject to certain requirements.  Foreign residents must:

  • either be engaged in economic activity (on an employed or self-employed basis);
  • or have sufficient resources and health insurance to ensure that they do not become a burden on the social services of the host nation during their stay.  The host state may not specify a minimum amount which they deem sufficient, but must take account of personal circumstances;
  • or be following vocational training as a student and have sufficient resources and health insurance to ensure that they do not become a burned on the social services of the host nation during their stay;
  • or be a family member of a citizen of a signatory nation who falls into one of the above categories.

Residence permits are not required for citizens of signatory states.  However, host nations may require them to register with the competent authorities.

Citizens of NAFTA signatory nations and family members who are residing in a host NAFTA nation when the FMC Agreement is signed are entitled to the right of residence.  However, host nations may require them to register.

Proof of registration will be issued immediately on presentation of:

  • An official identity card or valid passport;
  • Proof that the above requirements for residency are complied with.

Family members of citizens of signatory nations who are not nationals of signatory nations may be required to apply for a special residence permit.  These permits will be valid for at least five years from date of issue.

The death of a citizen of a signatory nation, his or her departure from a host signatory state, divorce, or annulment of marriage does not affect the right of family members who are not nationals of signatory states to continue residing in the host signatory state, subject to the terms of their special residence permit.

The right of permanent residence

Citizens of signatory nations acquire the right of permanent residence in the host signatory nation after a five-year period of uninterrupted legal residence, provided that an expulsion decision has not been enforced against them.  The same rule applies to family members who are not nationals of a signatory state and who have lived with a NAFTA citizen for five years.  The right of permanent residence is lost only in the event of more than two successive years' absence from the host nation.

NAFTA citizens and their family members who so request will receive a document verifying their right of permanent residence.

Common provisions on the right of residence and the right of permanent residence

NAFTA citizens qualifying for the right of residence or the right of permanent residence and the members of their families are entitled to equal treatment with host-country nationals in the areas covered by the FMC Agreement.

Family members of NAFTA citizens, irrespective of their nationality, will be entitled to engage in economic activity on an employed or self-employed basis.

Restrictions on the right of entry and the right of residence on grounds of public policy, public safety, or public health

Citizens of NAFTA states or members of their families may be expelled from a host NAFTA nation on the grounds of public policy, public safety, or public health.  Expulsion decisions cannot be based on economic grounds.  Measures affecting freedom of movement or residence must be based exclusively on the personal conduct of the individual concerned; previous criminal convictions do not automatically justify such measures.

Before making an expulsion decision, the host nation must assess a number of factors such as the period for which the individual concerned has been a resident, his or her age, degree of integration, family situation in the host nation, and links with the country of origin.  Only in exceptional circumstances with overriding considerations for public safety can expulsion orders be served on a permanent resident.

The person served with an expulsion order or refused permission to enter or reside in a signatory country must be informed of the grounds for the decision and of the appeals process available to her/him.  The FMC Agreement makes provision for a series of procedures that guarantee access to administrative and judicial review in host nations.  Except in emergencies, the subject of such decisions must be allowed one month in which to leave the host nation.

Final provisions

Signatory states may adopt the necessary measures to refuse, terminate, or withdraw any right conferred by the FMC Agreement in the case of abuse of rights or fraud, such as marriages of convenience.

The FMC Agreement does not prevent the application of national legislation or administrative arrangements providing for more favorable treatment of citizens.

¡FMC Hoy!


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i The Maquiladora manufacturing system was established under the Border Industrialization Program (BIP) that granted transnational firms access to the large pool of Mexican workers who had been deported from the US at the end of the Bracero Program in the mid-1960s.  The BIP was authored and promoted by manufacturers in the US.

ii Citizens: any person having the nationality of Mexico, the USA, or Canada

iii Family member: the spouse; the direct descendants who are under the age of 21 or are dependants of the spouse; the dependent direct relatives in the ascending line and those of the spouse