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The Increasing Importance of Regional Free Movement Agreements for Global Mobility

Prof. Dr. Diego Acosta

Prof. Dr. Diego Acosta is Professor of European and Migration Law at the University of Bristol, UK.

Despite being little investigated, agreements on the regional free movement of people continue to play a crucial role in the regulation of global mobility. Together with bilateral agreements on free movement, they are a clear indication of not only how countries erect borders to regulate migration, but also how they ease them in order to manage this complex issue. Brexit is a clear illustration of an opposite dynamic, but the number of countries facilitating the free movement of people through regional arrangements increases every year, as does the number of regional instruments that are adopted.

The increase in regional free movement treaties is part of a general trend witnessed worldwide relating to regionalization at global level. It has important implications not only for the economy and trade but also for migration. For instance, in 2018, the African Union adopted two crucial initiatives to facilitate regional economic cooperation — the African Continental Free Trade Area, which came into effect on 1 January 2021, and the Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons, which has not yet come into force but, once implemented, will allow African workers, students, researchers, and border residents to move freely between signatory states.

HCPI - Acosta

South America innovates with the Andean Migration Statute

The Andean Community adopted the Andean Migration Statute (Decision 878), the most recent agreement on regional free movement, on 12 May 2021. Comprising Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, the Andean Community is a regional organization that has regulated regional migration matters since the 1970s. The Andean Migration Statute represents the culmination of a lengthy process of discussion that began in 2013 and in which numerous actors, including the Andean Parliament, have taken part. The Statute aims to regulate the movement and residence not only of Andean citizens (understood as those who hold the nationality of any of the four member states) but also of extra‑communitarian permanent residents in any of the countries. This represents a unique innovation at global level since, for the first time, third‑country nationals — in this case, those with permanent residence — are granted the same mobility rights as nationals of the member states in a regional organization.

In the present political context, the adoption of this legal instrument is notable. Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador have received large numbers of Venezuelan migrants and refugees in the last six years. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration data, by July 2021 Colombia had received more than 1.7 million Venezuelans, while Peru had received more than 1 million, and Ecuador close to 450,000. Any Venezuelan holding a permanent residence permit in one of these three countries is now able to move around the region, thus enabling, among other things, the reunification of families living in different states.

Positive implications for investors and their families

For investors, there are also significant consequences of the Andean Migration Statute. Apart from Bolivia, all members of the Andean Community have options to obtain residence in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru through an investment. In the case of Colombia, investors that meet certain conditions can directly obtain permanent residence, whereas in Ecuador and Peru permanent residence can be obtained after residing in those states for a specific length of time. Once an individual obtains permanent residence in a member state, whether through investment or another category, they will be able to move, reside, work, and be treated equally to citizens in all the other member states of the Andean Community. These rights also extend to certain family members.

The future of bilateral agreements and of regional instruments on the free movement of people seems promising. Although Covid‑19 led to the provisional closure of borders across the globe, the momentum towards further free movement of people continues unabated, as exemplified by the adoption of the Andean Migration Statute and the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area in 2021. Once international travel resumes in earnest, regional migrants will continue to have facilitated access to entry, residence, and work across the globe. Such openness to foreign labor at all levels of society will be vital in rebuilding economies and attracting talent.

Prof. Dr. Diego Acosta is Professor of European and Migration Law at the University of Bristol and one of the leading experts globally on matters of comparative migration and nationality law. He has written more than 50 publications on the subject and his latest book, entitled The National versus the Foreigner in South America: 200 Years of Migration and Citizenship Law, is generally recognized as the most important work on the topic from a comparative and an historical perspective. Prof. Acosta has been requested to offer his expert advice to governments, parliaments, international organizations and law firms in Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, South America, and the USA, as well as to the EU, the International Organization for Migration, and the Inter-American Development Bank.


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