Freedom of Movement — A Human Right

January 5, 2011

Some countries don’t allow it internally; almost no country allows true freedom of movement externally (passports are required). Most people don’t think about it, but the US has essentially required the internal passport over the past few years, as you can now be required to provide identification whenever it is demanded by a state official and in order to get on an airplane or a train you are now required to show, or be prepared to show, a “government-issued ID.” A good book to read to understand the positive benefits and the overuse of identification is Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood, by James Harper.

The Central Asian Free Market Institute, based in Bishkek, but active throughout Central Asia, has called for elimination of the propiska, or internal passport and residency permit. (China still has the same system, known as the hukou system, and Chinese libertarians are working to eliminate that, as well. It has been described as “China’s own apartheid system.”)

Text follows: link to English text here.

Elimination of Propiska for freedom of movement in Kyrgyzstan

Central Asian Free Market Institute offers its recommendations on reforming Kyrgyztan’s policy on internal migration. The current article is part of “Kyrgyzstan’s Reform Program” that was prepared by CAFMI. For all questions on this chapter and the reform program please contact the Institute.

VISION: Right of a person to free movement and choice of place of residence within a country is defined not only in natural rights of person, but also in the Constitution of Kyrgyz Republic.

PROBLEM: The registration regime, known as propiska in Kyrgyzstan and other post-Soviet countries, exposes Kyrgyzstan’s population, in particular the poor segment, to myriad difficulties. The propiska was introduced in the USSR in 1932 for the following reasons, “Accounting for population of cities, worker settlements and new buildings and unloading cities from persons not engaged in socially useful labor, as well as removal of kulaks, criminals and other antisocial elements in order to strengthen dictatorship of proletariat”.

Although Kyrgyzstan has been an independent country for 19 years now, the propiska still exists, and the political leadership seems uninterested in revisiting one of the sorest problems facing the country. According to propiska’s requirements a citizen who changed his place of residence, shall, within 10 working days from date of arrival to a new residence register with government authorities. For this purpose, one has to present:

1. passport or equivalent document proving one’s identity;
2. accommodation document, which is the basis for accommodation of a citizen (such as an order, rent contract or a statement of landlord or other document), or a certified copy of the document;
3. reference from chairman of local housing district, confirming place of residence with a street and house number;
4. proof of change of residence, in case of prior disposal of registration;
5. certificate, proving release from prison;
6. for male youth- military card (certificate of registration in draft office) with a note about removal from military account

Losses from propiska are hard to calculate in monetary terms, however, they are high and can be grouped in the following two categories:

I. Visible costs of citizen

1.1. Fiscal losses. Costs from state budget for the administration and enforcement of the propiska. These costs also includes expenses for police conducting raids named “illegal” with the aim of detention of people without a local propiska.

1.2. Individual losses. To change place of propiska one must incur real costs- the cost of a trip to home village / town and back and the time and cost of un-registering and then re-registering. This entire process requires up to six documents and.

II. Invisible costs of a citizen

2.1. Missed opportunities for citizens for a better life by making public services inaccessible without a propiska: legal system, education, health care, opportunities to register a company and to acquire and dispose of real estate.

2.2. Losses from detention:. Each detained person for lack of a local propiska incurred the following types of losses- the loss of time during the detention, the amount of fines or bribes one had to pay in order to be released, and other associated risks, such as beating and harassment.

2.3. Propiska has become a hotbed of corruption, which thrives on the despair of the poorest of the poor. According to research 56% of those arrested, get away with bribes. At the same time, 26% of those arrested, were physically attacked. According to research by Social Research Center at the American University of Central Asia, migrants with lower income are also more likely to have their documents checked and detained.

2.4. Not everyone is ready to pay the expenses to obtain a propiska and those without it experience lower quality of life, social stability and increased illiteracy, thus, pushing them to criminal activities.


The system of registration like that in Kyrgyzstan is not only outdated but not used anywhere, except in some post-communist and communist states. In countries such as England, France, Germany, Italy, USA and Brazil propiska does not exist. Russia and China do have a propiska but are looking at abolishing it. Georgia, Latvia and Estonia have long ago understood the economic and moral benefits of free movement of citizens and eliminated propiska.

In some countries utility bills are used for confirming people’s residence. In Greece residence is determined by the workplace, while in Italy according to the individual’s own will. In Brazil, the state is interested in the citizens place of residence only at the time of tax collection or at the point of opening of their business. The United States operates an electronic system of registration of citizens, where each citizen has the right to receive information stored on him/her and has the right to correct it.

Kyrgyzstan should not repeat the mistakes of Russia and Belarus, in which registration system was replaced with a bit more simplified registration system but the problems arising from root cause remain intact. It is necessary to follow in the footsteps of developed countries, which remain true to the cause of freedom of movement and abolish propiska.


By abolishing the propiska, Kyrgyzstan’s government would ensure:

* => Fulfillment of all international and constitutional norms that call for respect of the rights of citizens to freedom of movement within the country;
* => Labor mobility, which is an essential tool of modern economics;
* => Stopping discrimination of immigrants in regards to private and public services;
* => Maximum integration of citizens across regions;

Save citizens’ time and money that can be directed to other activities that bring concrete value to their living standard.

Author: Central Asian Free Market Institute

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