In 2009, Ngo Thu Huong (name changed) was walking down a District 1 street in Saigon when she had her bag snatched. She had just been to the bank and was carrying a large sum of cash. More important were the documents she lost: her ID card (chung minh nhan dan) and her ho khau, or family book.
When in November the authorities made a landmark decision to scrap both the ho khau and ID card, there was widespread jubilation. Huong would have been equally happy.
At the time she lost her documents she was making changes to her company registration. Without her ID card and ho khau, the two most important legal identification documents in Vietnam, she had to put the changes on hold. She also had to return home to her native province for three days to get new documents issued. After that she had to wait a fortnight before a family member could pick up the replacements and send them to her in Saigon.
Your Place of Residence
Introduced in the 1960s, the ho khau is issued to the house owner and contains information about family members who stay at the same address. At first it was used for public security, economic planning, migration control, food rationing and as a system of surveillance. This ensured that people were sleeping at the address they had registered as their own. No extra-marital affairs, then.
Since Doi Moi in the 1980s, ho khau has been a required document of identification when it comes to school admission, job application, marriage and company registration, and most other administrative procedures. It defines four types of residence, KT1 to KT4. All are based on your KT1 registration which denotes your primary residential address.
If, for example, your primary residential address is in Quang Binh but you actually live in Hanoi, then you will need to return to your home town in Quang Binh to do all your legal work — even work as simple as registering a motorbike. And if you live and work in Ho Chi Minh City but your KT1 registration is in Binh Duong, then your children will only be allowed to go to school in Binh Duong.
A Thing of the Past
The decision in November to scrap the ho khau and the ID Card by 2020 will stop people having to return to their place of KT1 registration to have access to public services.
Instead a new system will be put in place where each Vietnamese citizen will be issued with a unique 12-digit personal identification number. All information regarding a person’s identity will then be stored in an accessible online database that can be easily updated, allowing people to get access to public services by providing their 12-digit number.
Huong’s story is far from unique. Almost everyone in Vietnam has experienced problems with their ho khau. Soon it will be a thing of the past.
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