Plans are afoot to introduce a nationwide residence permit system to pave the way for better access to social services for migrant workers, who were long disadvantaged under an outdated household registration scheme known as hukou.
A draft of the regulation is being circulated among government departments for consultation and it will be submitted to the State Council for approval within the year, said Deputy Minister of Public Security Huang Ming, speaking on the sidelines of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference at the weekend.
He said the proposal would allow migrant workers to apply for a permit in the city where they live, and access basic social services there.
Huang said his department was also finalising a 'dynamic population database' in partnership with other bureaus to help it address the needs of migrants, numbering 230 million by the end of last year, according to official statistics.
The decades-old hukou system often makes it difficult for migrant workers, including educated office employees and business owners, to access public services in the cities where they have lived for years.
For example, if children from migrant families want to sit national college entrance exams, they must return to where they were registered by their parents, which is usually their parents' hometowns.
This year, Zhejiang and Guangdong became the first mainland regions to introduce a system that will allow migrants and their children gradual access to services such as schooling, social security and even drivers' licence exam registration.
Professor Yang Tuan, from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said a new residence permit system would be a welcome step in opening up public services for those workers, especially in light of a recent shortage in young migrants who were being driven away to other jobs due to dissatisfaction over the quality of social services afforded to them in mainland cities.
However, while the new residence permit system will go some way to addressing the plight of migrant workers, Yang said policymakers still needed to address unequal access to social welfare and public services faced by people in rural areas and smaller cities under the hukou regime.
'As a legacy from the planned economy, the hukou system can no longer be justified, as the country has come a long way in its economic development,' Yang said.