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Vietnam to Abolish Residence Books, Establish Online Citizen Database

Vietnam is in the process of completely overhauling its household registration and personal identification systems.

As Tuoi Tre reports, on October 30, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc put the stamp of approval on a major government policy, Resolution 112, which aims to streamline administrative procedures and reduce the amount of paperwork citizens have to go through in civic processes.

Specifically, the plan – compiled by the Ministry of Public Security – seeks to retire Vietnam’s household residence books, or hộ khẩu, and national identification cards, or chứng minh nhân dân. Instead, locals will each be given a unique 12-digit personal identification number (mã số danh định cá nhân) containing personal information such as gender, full name, date and place of birth, current address, etc.

The government and citizens will be able to access such information through an online database that can be reached and updated nationwide easily instead of through physical documents like before.

A sample of Vietnam's future personal identification card. Image via Tuoi Tre.

At the moment, Vietnam is one of the few countries in the world that still makes extensive use of a highly location-based household registration system. Established in the 1960s, the hộ khẩu system is almost a carbon copy of China’s hukou (戶口), which controls citizen’s migration and access to social welfare.

The system was applied to aid the government in rationing resources such as food and utilities back when Vietnam still had a state-controlled planned economy. After Doi Moi began in the 1980s, the country opened up its market; however, the hộ khẩu remains as a required document in a wide array of civic activities such as school admissions, job applications, marriage registration, and even death certification.

For many Vietnamese, the household registration system is a nuisance at best, and a significant hurdle to social mobility at worst. It’s also often criticized for being an instrument for red tape, corruption and discrimination. For instance, a person with a hộ khẩu based in Nghe An province will encounter a lot of administrative difficulties seeking a job in Hanoi.

Those who lack permanent residency, such as homeless people, are not eligible for national identification cards, without which it’s impossible to apply for public services such as public school education and medical insurance. The announcement of Resolution 112 detailing the removal of the hộ khẩu system was met with widespread joy and relief by citizens. However, it might be years before Vietnamese are actually be able to experience the new digital system, as Tuoi Tre didn’t report a timeline for the plan.

“It would cost the government a lot to develop the infrastructure needed to maintain good residential management after the abolition of residence books and national ID cards, but the move would be greatly beneficial to the citizens,” a police chief from Hai Phong told the newspaper.

The online citizen database is another development in the Vietnamese government’s future plan to digitize its operations. In February of this year, officials launched a two-year trial program allowing tourists from 40 countries to apply for visas electronically. In April, authorities also started working on an e-money scheme enabling Vietnamese pensioners to receive payments through integrated-chip cards.

[Photo via Tuoi Tre]

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