Relaxing residency rules will boost Shanghai economy, survey finds

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 February, 2009, 12:00am

Nearly two in three Shanghai residents believe relaxing permanent residency requirements for skilled workers will boost the local economy, a newspaper survey shows.

However, the new system - full details of which were posted on the city government's website yesterday - remains a point of contention, with many questioning its focus on highly qualified workers and the seven years it takes for a temporary resident to qualify.

The survey, conducted by the Oriental Morning Post, found that 62 per cent of 962 respondents believed the new rules would help attract talented professionals to Shanghai and boost the city's economy - the municipal government's stated reason for relaxing the requirements.

While 60 per cent said they felt the seven-year wait was 'just right', the remaining 40 per cent of respondents were split evenly. One in five either felt the period was too long or that there should not be a set time period for qualification.

Fifty-three per cent of the survey's respondents were holders of the much-coveted Shanghai hukou, or permanent residency permit.

But the city's residents were split on the issue of whether the change was a good idea overall, the survey showed.

Forty-five per cent of respondents said they were in favour of the proposal, while 43 per cent said they were concerned the city would not be able to cope with the added strain on its resources.

Shanghai's moves to change residency regulations mark a significant step in the gradual relaxation of the mainland's hukou system, often criticised as a major obstacle to population mobility.

It can be notoriously difficult to change hukou registration from a person's place of birth, restricting migrants' access to public services.

Most workers who move to big cities must return to their hometown to apply for a passport or register births or marriages. Children born to parents without a hukou in the place where they live often face difficulties gaining a place in school.

Speaking in a webcast to the city on Saturday, Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng said that although there were 13 million hukou-holders living in the city, there were more than 6 million other long-term residents who did not have the permit.

Although Shanghai's new rules - set to be implemented for a three-year trial period - were only officially released yesterday, their contents were largely leaked last week.

To qualify, residents need to have held a temporary Shanghai resident permit for at least seven years and paid local taxes and social security for the same period. Applicants will also need to hold a professional or technical position at 'mid-level or above' in the city or hold a recognised professional qualification.

The city is also giving priority to certain professions in high demand, such as skilled technicians, teachers, doctors working in the suburbs and individual investors.

The government has included a clause stating that if demand outstrips capacity to process applications, hukou hopefuls will be placed in a queue for the next year - something some people on online forums yesterday interpreted as a veiled reference to the continued existence of an internal quota system.