Vietnam’s residence book reforms won't happen for another two years: police

By Staff reporters   November 7, 2017 | 12:21 am PT
Vietnam’s residence book reforms won't happen for another two years: police
A police officer takes a person's fingerprints for identification card registration in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy
The switch to an online database that doesn't tie people to one address is still some way off.

News that Vietnam is planning to replace its outdated residence books with an online database has gained widespread kudos, but police have warned residents not to get too excited just yet.

The online system will not be ready until 2020, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Public Security said at a media conference Tuesday in what appears to be a move to ease premature expectations.

To replace the books, Vietnam is expected to introduce a personal identification code which will be linked to data accessible to all government agencies. Current residency data is limited to the police and that’s why people need to present their residence books for most administrative procedures.

Officers also said that the government does not plan on loosening citizen registration controls, and will be simply digitalizing the procedure.

The switch was announced in a government resolution issued last week, which said Vietnam will stop managing its citizens through residence books that attach a person to a permanent address.

The books, called ho khau in Vietnamese, have been issued since the 1960s to control public security, economic planning and migration, similarly to China’s hukou. In the post-war period, the books were used as a means to ration food and allocate jobs under the then planned economy.

However, following economic reforms starting in the late 1980s, Vietnam adopted a socialist oriented market economy, and the ho khau were kept solely to limit migration to booming cities, but to no avail.

A report issued last year by the World Bank said that 36 percent of the population in Ho Chi Minh City and 18 percent in Hanoi were not registered.

“This study shows that the ho khau system has created inequality of opportunity for Vietnamese citizens,” Achim Fock, the World Bank’s Acting Country Director for Vietnam, said in 2016.

The books are required for most administrative procedures, including filing a birth certificate, going to school and getting married, and they dictate how easy it is for a person to find a job or buy a house or a vehicle.

A person who is registered outside Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City is not allowed to buy a motorbike or a house under their own name in those cities, for example.

In most cities and provinces in Vietnam, people can only work in the public sector in the areas where they are registered as permanent residents.

If a person moves, they are forced to go through a multitude of procedures to remove their name from one residence book and add it to another.

In short, the books have come to signify Vietnam’s excessive red tape.

The Vietnamese-language edition of VnExpress asked local readers if they thought the books should be eradicated, and 93 percent of them said yes. The question received 11,500 votes in one day.

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