The South American Passport (MERCOSUR)
written by A. L. Hart Havens on October 1, 2021
With the quality of life in the western world rapidly deteriorating, many individuals in possession of wealth and assets are looking to escape the destructive and increasingly draconian policies of their home countries.
And although there are certainly a number of quality options elsewhere in the world, the expansive Latin American and Caribbean region – which encompasses more than 30 countries stretching from Tijuana to Tierra del Fuego – has led many libertarian-minded Anglo North Americans to look southward rather than venture outside of the New World.
With that trend in mind, this essay covers the prospect of obtaining citizenship in a specific part of the Latin American and Caribbean region, namely in an economic and political union spanning nearly the entire South American continent.
Mercado Común del Sur
The Mercado Común del Sur (the Southern Common Market), colloquially referred to as Mercosur in Spanish and English, is a trade bloc and customs union that aims to promote trade and the free movement of goods, people, and capital among member countries. It is presently the most important South American intergovernmental organization, outshining both the Andean Community and the Union of South American Nations in significance. The bloc is referred to as Mercosul in Brazilian Portuguese (Mercado Comum do Sul).
As the product of four major agreements enacted across a decade stretching from 1985 to 1994, the organization’s integration efforts emulate those of the European Union in many ways. Mercosur’s headquarters as well as the Mercosur Parliament are located in Montevideo, Uruguay.
The organization’s five full members – Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Venezuela – are situated in eastern South America while its seven associate members – Chile, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname – are predominantly located on the western side of the continent. Bolivia is currently on track to becoming a full member, while Venezuela has been suspended since 2016 due to accusations of corruption and human rights violations.
Associate member countries have no voting powers at the Mercosur Parliament and their citizens do not receive the complete scope of benefits of the bloc’s various treaties and agreements regarding issues such as residency, education, social security, and trade. The organization also has two observer countries, which are Mexico and New Zealand.
Mercosur’s full and associate members combine to encompass the vast majority of the South American continent and adjacent islands. The only territory not included is that of French Guiana (an overseas region of France) and the Falkland Islands (a British overseas territory).
The Mercosur flag prominently shows the southern circumpolar constellation of the Southern Cross (Crux) above a green horizon.
The Mercosur Residency Agreement
The Mercosur Residency Agreement, which has been ratified by nine of the bloc’s twelve member countries, aims to enable citizens of those countries to resettle in any of the other countries under much more favorable conditions than are afforded to citizens of non-Mercosur countries.
The agreement establishes that legal immigrants from other Mercosur countries shall enjoy the same legal, economic, and employment rights and freedoms as host-country citizens. Venezuela, Guyana, and Suriname are the bloc’s three countries that are currently excluded from the Mercosur Residency Agreement.
Mercosur-country citizens wishing to relocate within the bloc are required to present only a valid passport, birth certificate, and a clean police certificate of good conduct in order to obtain a temporary residency permit with a validity of two years. Applicants then have the right at the expiration of the two-year period to request a conversion of their immigration status to permanent residency.
It should be noted that the two official and legally binding versions of the agreement (written in Spanish and Portuguese) define Mercosur member-country citizens as either (a.) individuals holding citizenship from birth onward in one of the Mercosur member countries or (b.) individuals who acquired the citizenship of a Mercosur member country by way of naturalization and have held this nationality for at least five years.
The Mercosur Passport
Mercosur’s full members issue medium or dark blue passports showing Mercosur or Mercosul at the top of the front cover above the country’s name and national coat of arms. The associate member countries’ passport covers, the majority of which are dark red, do not contain any reference to the organization.
It is not widely known that the passports issued by Latin American and Caribbean countries are overwhelmingly high-quality travel documents that allow for excellent visa-free access across the world. This may come as a surprise to many readers due to perceptions of the region being underdeveloped, corrupt, and unstable.
However, it is on average far superior to Asia, Africa, and the Middle East in terms of the visa-free access afforded by its countries’ national passports. Even citizens of Venezuela, El Salvador, and Honduras, which are among the most crime-ridden countries in the world, are afforded visa-free access to the European Union as well as Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway. Cuba and Haiti are the two rare examples of poor-quality passports from the Latin American and Caribbean region.
South American passports in particular are considered to be quality travel documents, although no South American passport holders other than Chileans enjoy visa-free access to the United States or Canada.
Additionally, citizens of all full and associate Mercosur member countries are permitted to enter Russia without a visa, a luxury that is not afforded to American, Canadian, British, or Australian passport holders.
While this may strike some readers as trivial, it should be emphasized that visa-free access to a country within a different geopolitical sphere of influence provides an added layer of protection for individuals seeking to establish a network of safe havens abroad in today’s highly uncertain times.