Migrant workers closer to city residency rights

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 February, 2012, 12:00am


The central government has revealed criteria that could allow the country's 200 million or so migrant workers to become full residents of medium-sized cities, but critics say the change is too small to address growing social problems.

In a notice published by the State Council on Thursday urging 'proactive and stable' reform of the hukou household registration system, mainland cities have been divided into three categories each with their own policies.

In county-level cities, anyone with a legal and stable job and residence, either rented or owned, can apply for hukou. In medium-sized cities that are big enough to contain districts, a migrant must have worked there for more than three years with a stable residence before being able to apply for hukou.

Current hukou practices remain in the four municipalities- Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing- and other major cities, which the notice says must 'continue to reasonably control population size'.

The notice is dated February 26, 2011, and it is not clear why it has been released a year later.

The hukou system is highly controversial and long been criticised as archaic. It divides citizens into urban and rural residents and dictates what kind of social benefits - from medical care to education to social welfare- a mainlander can claim and where to claim them.

It prevents most of the country's migrant workers from claiming social benefits where they work, aggravating grievances created by a growing wealth gap.

The mainland's urban population surpassed the number of rural residents last year, according to official statistics.

Professor Niu Fengrui , from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the changes were long overdue but that failing to open up the bigger cities would greatly reduce the benefits they might have.

'These bigger cities are the engine of economic growth in the country, and the biggest attraction for migrant workers,' he said.

Niu said a three-year probation requirement was reasonable, because people move around quickly.

'What's important is that they now know they can become a permanent resident after a certain period,' he said.

Professor Hu Xingdou, from the Beijing Institute of Technology, said the notice was introduced in the hope of standardising hukou reforms across the mainland rather than achieving a breakthrough.

In recent years, different cities have experimented with different changes to their hukou systems, such as allowing applications for residency from those who buy property, make sufficient investments, or have good educational qualifications.

'Citizens have long been free to migrate, it's just that those without hukou in a city do not enjoy the same social benefits as those with hukou,' Hu said. 'And then we say the migrant population is responsible for the higher crime rate. But they are not given sufficient rights in the first place.'

The notice also attempts to address another thorny issue, mandating that any hukou reform must not harm the interests of farmers, and must not illegally confiscate the land of farmers who decided to change their hukou from rural to urban.

It also says that all new employment, education and occupational training policies must not be linked to hukou and that local governments must introduce measures to address the social benefit needs of migrant workers who do not have urban hukou.