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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pages of internal passport, issued 1910 in Imperial Russia

An internal passport is an identity document that can be compared to identity card used in some countries to control the internal movement and residence of people. Countries that currently have internal passports include Russia, Ukraine, China and North Korea.

In the past, internal passports were used by Imperial Russia, the Confederate States of America, the Soviet Union, the Ottoman Empire and during the apartheid era in South Africa.


Soviet Union

Internal passports were used in the Soviet Union for identification of persons for various purposes. In particular, passports were used to control and monitor the place of residence by means of propiska, a regulation in the Soviet Union designed to control internal population movement by binding a person to his or her permanent place of residence. Officially, propiska was introduced for statistical reasons: since in the planned economy of the Soviet Union the distribution of goods and services was centralized, the overall distribution of population was to be monitored. For example, a valid propiska was necessary to receive higher education or medical treatment (though not limited to the location registered - in fact, besides marriage to a resident of another area, university education was the other most popular way of circumventing one's propiska and residing elsewhere). Also, since there was no private ownership of real estate, having a propiska for an address meant that you had the right to live there.

All residents were required by law to record their address on the document, and to report any changes to a local office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (e.g., by the age of 45, a person has to have three photographs of themselves in the passport due to the effects of aging, taken at the age of 16 (when it is issued), 25 and 45).

In Ukraine, these laws were struck down by its Constitutional Court in 2001 on the grounds of unconstitutionality.

In Russia, similar cases have so far failed, and the system remains in place, although largely reduced. The system of internal passport registration and control remains extremely strict in Moscow in order to reduce illegal immigration and to prevent terrorist attacks. No government permission for a residence address change is required (excluding cases of settling in state-owned dwellings). De-facto citizens have no hindrance to reside at another address than registered within the same city. However, many inhabitants of rented dwellings refuse official registration at new addresses because of landlords' tax evasion.

People's Republic of China

The People's Republic of China (PRC) maintains a system of residency registration in mainland China known as hukou, by which government permission is needed to formally change one's place of residency. This system effectively controlled internal migration before the 1980s, but market reforms have caused the system to collapse as a means of migration control and an estimated 150 to 200 million people are part of the "blind flow" and have unofficially migrated, generally from poor, rural areas to wealthy, urban ones. Unofficial residents are, however, often denied official services such as education and medical care and are sometimes subject to both social and official discrimination. (A similar system of household registration is maintained in the Republic of China (Taiwan), but it does not restrict travel as in mainland China.)

Hong Kong and Macao residents need Home Return Permits, issued by the PRC government through the Guangdong Public Security Bureau, to enter mainland China. The system was in place when the Hong Kong and Macao were under British and Portuguese rule, and was retained after their sovereignty were transferred to the PRC in 1997 and 1999 respectively under the One country, two systems policy. The PRC government denies applications of permits from persons viewed as a threat to national security. In the other way round, a travelling permit, issued by mainland authorities, is required for residents of mainland China to visit Hong Kong or Macao. The requirement in applying travelling permit has recently been relaxed for residents of Guangdong province, all the province-level municipalities and a number of other major cities.


In South Africa, the pass laws (notably the Pass Laws Act 1952 which applied until 1986) were a component of the apartheid system. The law regulated where, when, and for how long a person could remain outside their homeland, and made it compulsory for all black South Africans over the age of 15 to carry a "pass book" at all times.

Some civil liberties campaigners in western democracies have likened some planned counter-terrorism measures as an akin to the introduction of an internal passport. For instance, Tim Lott, writing in London's Evening Standard in December 2002 said that the proposed British identity card was a possible pre-cursor to an "internal passport".

Similar ardent privacy advocates in the United States, such as Bill Scannell of, called the CAPPS II plan to color-code air passengers by their potential terrorist status a prelude to an internal passport. The phrase has not however gained wide currency as a description of these measures.

Internal passports were also used in the Confederate States of America during its existence.

See also




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