Internal passport

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Pages of internal passport, issued in 1910 in Imperial Russia

An internal passport is an identity document that may or may not be used by a country to control and monitor the internal movement and residence of its people. Internal passports have been used by Imperial Russia and its successor states, France, the Confederate States of America, the Soviet Union, the Ottoman Empire, South Africa during apartheid, and other countries. Countries that currently have internal passports include:

When passports first emerged, there was no clear distinction between internal and international ones. Later, some countries developed sophisticated systems of passports for various purposes and various groups of population. Uses for internal passports have included restricting citizens of a subdivided state to employment in their own area (preventing their migration to richer cities or regions), clearly recording the ethnicity of citizens to enforce segregation or prevent passing, and controlling access to sensitive sites or closed cities.

Currently, some countries[where?] still have internal passports as a part of their bureaucratic heritage but do not use them to restrict the movement of people. In such countries, internal passport are essentially identification documents in booklet form.

Cultural implications[edit]

In many countries, the word "passport" is only used in modern language to denote a document issued for the purpose of international travel, which is subject to discretionary permission. Hence the widespread misconception that internal passports are necessarily the instrument of discretionary limitation of traveling and residence in countries that use them.

On the other hand, in post-Soviet countries, the word "passport" is implied to merely mean a primary identification document, especially if has the form of a booklet. Nevertheless, it is also extended by analogy to other forms of identification documents. For example, the proposed scheme to replace old-fashioned internal passport booklets with plastic identification cards in Ukraine still calls the latter "passports".


In 1885 the "pass system" was introduced in Canada, to restrict and control the movement of First Nations people within Canada. Instituted at the time of the North-West Rebellion, it remained in force for 60 years despite having no basis in law.[2] Any First Nation person caught outside his reservation without a pass issued by an Indian agent was returned to their reservation or incarcerated.


In France, in the past, one had to show an internal passport to change city. Former convicts who had served forced labour, even after having served their sentence, had a yellow passport, which made them outcasts. A famous holder of the yellow passport is the former bagnard Jean Valjean the hero of the novel by Victor Hugo.[3]

Booklet and notebook of circulation of travellers[edit]

In France, the "livret de circulation" (booklet of circulation) and its variant the "carnet de circulation" (notebook of circulation) provided to those of no fixed abode were particularly constraining and discriminatory obligations imposed on itinerants.

At the end of 2012, when examining a priority question of constitutionality[fr], the Constitutional Council ended the notebook of circulation, considering that it harmed disproportionately the freedom of movement.

South Africa[edit]

In South Africa, the pass laws (notably the Pass Laws Act 1952, which applied until 1986) were a component of the apartheid system. The laws regulated where, when and for how long persons could remain outside their “homeland” — which, for many people, was not their homeland, so thousands of autochthon people were forced to change region. These laws also made it compulsory for all black South Africans over the age of 15 to carry a pass book at all times. However, the legislation also required that citizens of all races have on their person an ID book, which closely approximates a passport.

Soviet Union and its successors[edit]

The internal passport system of the Russian Empire was abandoned after the October Revolution in 1917, lifting most limitations upon internal movements of members of labouring classes in Soviet Russia. Labour booklets became the principal means of personal identification.

In 1932, the "passport regime" was reintroduced, its declared purpose to improve the registration of population and "relieve" major industrial cities and other sensitive localities of "hiding kulaks and dangerous political elements" and those "not engaged in labor of social usefulness". The "passportization" process developed gradually involving factories, large, medium, and small cities, settlements, and rural areas, and finally became universal by the mid-1970s.

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 the propiska, a regulation designed to control the population's internal movement by binding a person to his or her permanent place of residence. For example, a valid propiska was necessary to receive higher education or medical treatment, although these services were not limited to the location registered. Besides marriage to a resident of another area, university education was the most popular way of circumventing one's propiska and residing elsewhere. Also, since only a minority of dwellings were privately owned, having a propiska at a certain address meant that one had the right to live there.

All residents were required by law to record their address in the document and to report any relevant changes to a local office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.[citation needed] For example, citizens needed to submit photographs of themselves for their passport, taken when they were issued the document at age 16, and again at ages 25 and 45.[citation needed]

Formally, passports were not necessary for traveling per se in late Soviet Union. Bus, train, and air tickets were sold without names, and identification documents were not necessary for boarding buses and trains (and only became necessary to board a plane in mid-1970s) except when traveling to/from border-adjacent areas and controlled cities. Nevertheless, passports were necessary for temporary propiska in a number of situations such as checking in a hotel or renting a private dwelling (no marks were placed in the document).

Moreover, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Soviet internal passports, accompanied with a special leaflet, were valid for traveling to most Comecon countries and Yugoslavia as a member of a touristic group. The leaflet functioned as an equivalent of exit visa stamped in international passports; destination countries did not require entry visas at that time.


In 1992, passports, or other photo identification documents, became necessary to board a train. Train tickets started to bear passenger names, allegedly as an effort to combat speculative reselling of the tickets.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union invoked the need to distinguish Russian citizens among the citizens of the former Soviet Union.

On 9 December 1992, special leaves were introduced which were affixed in Soviet passports, certifying that the bearer of the passport was a citizen of Russia. These leaves were optional unless travelling to the other former Soviet republics which continued to accept Soviet passports; for other occasions, other proofs of citizenship were accepted as well. Issuance of the leaves continued until the end of 2002.

On 8 July 1997, the current design of the Russian internal passport was introduced. Unlike the Soviet passports, which had three photo pages, the new passports have one. A passport is first issued at the age of 14 and then replaced upon at the ages of 20 and 45. The text in the passports is in Russian. Passports issued in autonomous entities may, on the bearer's request, contain an additional leaf duplicating all data in one of the official local languages.

A passport exchange was begun; the deadline was initially set at end of 2001 but then prolonged several times and finally set at 30 June 2004. The government had first regulated that having failed to exchange one's passport would constitute a punishable violation. However, the Supreme Court ruled to the effect that citizens cannot be obliged to exchange their passports. The Soviet passports ceased to be valid as means of personal identification since mid-2004, but it is still legal (though barely practicable) to have one.

The propiska was formally abandoned soon after adoption of the current Constitution in 1993, and replaced with "residency registration" which, in principle, was simply notification of one's place of residence.

Nevertheless, under the new regulations, permanent registration records are stamped in citizens' internal passports just as were propiskas. That has led to the widespread misconception that registration was just a new name for the propiska; many continue to call it a "propiska". The misconception is partly reinforced by the fact that the existing rules for registration make it an onerous process, dependent on the consent of landlords, which effectively prevents tenants of flats from registering.

Unlike with the propiska, it is not an offense not to have registration unless one resides in a particular dwelling for more than 90 days. From a practical point of view, the long deadline makes it difficult to prove avoidance of residency registration and so to prosecute. De facto citizens have no restriction on where they reside (with the exception of closed cities or near borders). Still, many civil rights are dependent on registration, such as the right to vote.

In November 2010, the Federal Migration Service announced the possible cancellation of internal passports, which, if it were implemented, would be replaced by plastic ID cards or drivers' licenses.[4] In 2012, the Minkomsvyaz announced that a plastic ID card would be introduced in 2014, and any citizen would have a right to reject it and retain an old-style internal passport.[5]


Main article: Belarusian passport

In Belarus, internal passports and passports for travelling abroad were merged into one kind of document 1991. Passports are the primary means of identification for citizens of Belarus both in homeland and abroad. Belarusian citizens must have a passport after they have reached the age of 14; passports can also be issued to younger children for travelling abroad. Passports are valid for 10 years regardless of age.

Apart from visa pages, a considerable number of pages in Belarusian passports are designated for "internal" records, such as place of residence and marriage. Citizens had to obtain special stamp enabling the passport bearer to cross the border of the Union State before 2005 when the Constitutional Court ruled the practice not conforming to the Constitution.[citation needed]

Combination of primary identification document with international passport causes significant inconvenience to bearers who cannot certify their identity while their passports are processed for visas in embassies and consulates. A passport can also be easily invalidated by a careless foreign passport control official by placing a stamp in a reserved page.

People's Republic of China[edit]

Main article: Hukou system

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 residence. It is enforced with identity cards. This system effectively controlled internal migration before the 1980s, but subsequent market reforms caused it to collapse as a means of migration control. 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. However, unofficial residents are often denied official services such as education and medical care and are sometimes subject to both social and political discrimination.

United States of America[edit]

Internal passports were used in the Confederate States of America.[6] They were also used for freed blacks in the slave states before the Civil War, for example, an authenticated internal passport dated 1815 was presented to Massachusetts citizen George Barker to allow him to freely travel as a free black man to visit relatives in Southern slave states.[7]

United Kingdom[edit]

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

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Ukraine PM announces transition from internal passports to ID-cards". Ukraine Today. July 10, 2015.
  2. ^ Cram, Stephanie (February 19, 2016). "Dark history of Canada's First Nations pass system uncovered in documentary". CBC News. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved February 20, 2016. 
  3. ^ Victor Hugo, les Misérables
  4. ^ Россия упрощает регистрацию и хочет отменить паспорта, BBC Russian, 18 ноября 2010
  5. ^ Россияне смогут выбирать, получать обычный паспорт или с чипом (in Russian). 12 November 2012. Retrieved 12 November 2012. 
  6. ^ Neely, Mark E., Jr. (1993). Confederate Bastille: Jefferson Davis and Civil Liberties. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press. pp. 11, 16. ISBN 0-87462-325-1. 
  7. ^ "Celebrating Black Americana" (video). Retrieved 16 February 2015.