Modest hukou reform opens doors for migrant workers

WantChinaTimes – The Chinese government has relaxed its policy on household registration to allow the country’s over 100 million migrant workers to apply for difficult-to-obtain residency registration permits, known as hukous, in small and medium cities. The policy also pledges to ban any new hukou policy or abolish existing ones that affect where people choose to work and enroll their children in schools. The new policy opens small and medium cities to farmers, but not the big metropolises of which many of them have dreamed.

China’s State Council announced on Tuesday that migrant workers who have had legal and stable jobs, more than three years residence and have enrolled in social insurance in county-level cities will qualify to apply for hukous. The new policy excludes China’s four direct-controlled municipalities and provincial-level cities, which are already densely populated, according to the Want Daily, our Chinese-language sister newspaper.

University of Washington – Between those lacking any urban designation and those with only nominal status, significantly more than 206 million people are living in Chinese cities without access to basic urban social benefits.

Chan said that the consequences of this social engineering under the hukou system is a greater income gap between rich and poor, and little growth of a middle class from rural hukou holders moving to cities.

Chan’s depiction of the main components of Chinese society with respect to hukou type, location in urban (light gray) and rural (dark gray) areas. From Mao’s era (left) to present day (right), Chan shows that now more people with rural hukou status are living in urban areas.

The new policy may solve many issues caused by the present hukou system, which requires the children of migrant workers to return to the place of their registered residence in order to take part in college entrance exams. What is more, children without residence permits struggle to gain admittance to public schools in places where their parents work. Many migrant workers choose to leave their children behind as a result. Long separation of parents and children has led to generational impasses and many parenting issues.

Businesses may also benefit from the new hukou policy as it will allow them to recruit and maintain high-quality workers migrating from other areas of the country. Migrant workers have traditionally had much higher turnover rates than those that hold hukous in their place of work. Many have in recent years left China’s largest cities as the gap between urban and rural development shrinks, allowing them to find work closer to home and increasing recruitment difficulties for many businesses. If they are allowed residence at their places of work, firms may find it easier to keep migrant workers around.

The rule is also being considered an effective measure to cool property markets since many migrant workers will be allowed to apply for hukous using their rented properties. In the past, doing so required purchasing a home.

Yet the new hukou rules do not fulfill the needs of migrant workers in major cities. A woman surnamed Gao, who works in Shanghai, said that though her husband already has a residence permit in the city, they need to hold the permit for seven years before they can together apply for a hukou there. Gao and her husband are considering having a child, so they need to consider whether they plan to stay in Shanghai or move house.

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