Second-class citizens: Beijing offers residency certificate to migrants, but equality is still far away

New system is meant to help put the capital’s public services within reach of about eight million non-citizens, but observers say it is only a first step

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 9:47am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 10:14pm

Beijing officially instituted a residency system last weekend for the city’s huge number of migrants, giving them the right to public services and social benefits – at least in theory.

Observers hailed the system as a step towards the elimination of household registration, so that all city residents had equal rights, but said it would take a very long time to achieve that goal.

Over the weekend, migrant workers and temporary residents lined up at 346 police stations across the capital to apply for the new residency certificate, but many of them were turned back after failing to meet the complicated requirements.

For instance, only about one third of applicants had their applications accepted at a police station in Xicheng district on Saturday morning, Beijing Youth Daily reported.

Many of the migrants were rejected because their temporary residential permits – their certificates under the old residency system – had expired.

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A woman who has lived in Beijing for more than 20 years had been renewing her temporary residential permits every year, but it became expired late last month.

She was told to apply for a residence registration card at her neighbourhood committee office and would have to wait for six months before she became eligible to apply for the new residence certificate, the report said.

The new certificate requires applicants to provide proof – in the form of a valid temporary residential permit or residence registration card – that they have been living in the city for more than six months.

To speed up the application process, an online registration platform would be set up within two months, allowing applicants to file forms online before going to the stations to complete the rest of the procedure, police authorities said.

Beijing’s move is part of a bid to align itself with a new national regulation that takes effect on January 1.

There are about eight million migrants living, working or studying in the capital, alongside nearly 14 million people with Beijing citizenship. The new system offers a residency certificate to the migrants, allowing them to enjoy basic public services and conveniences and to be considered for becoming a Beijing citizen under the city’s point system.

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However, the requirements for becoming a citizen under the point system are still very demanding. And the gap between Beijing citizens and holders of the residency certificate remains wide.

All residents will be able to access public hospitals, but not everyone has public medical insurance to cover their medical costs

Medical insurance in the city is open only to Beijing residents and people who work in Beijing.

Citizens, for example, can also be admitted to a public primary school in the vicinity of their residence; Beijing residents still need as many as 30 certificates to prove they are eligible.

“The residency system is a middle ground before a complete scrapping of the household registration system,” said Zhu Lijia, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance. “But in reality, local governments vary in financial capabilities and their policies are different. Some are better than others.”

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Achieving the right balance is also difficult. The capital wants to cap its total population at 23 million by 2020, mainly by targeting those who are not urban elites. Factories and wholesale markets are being moved out.

“The residency system is the start of a household registration reform and people should apply for it because of the social benefits, such as applying for government-subsidised housing,” said Lu Jiehua, a professor of sociology at Peking University.

But Lu warned that the system was as much about gathering information on migrants as it was about providing public services to them.

“The residency permit, which is acquired from the public security authority, should not be used as a means to control the population,” he said.