Chinese overseas

Shanghai U-turn after outcry over revoking residency rights

City proposed removing the household registration of people with permanent residency overseas, but has ditched the plan admitting national guidelines unclear

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 March, 2018, 3:06pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 March, 2018, 9:44pm

Shanghai has dropped controversial plans to revoke the residency rights of people who also have permanent residency in countries overseas.

The proposals, announced earlier this month, ordered Shanghai residents who had “settled down abroad or obtained other nationalities” to report to the police to have their local household registration rights in the city revoked, a system known in Chinese as hukou.

The Shanghai permanent residency management rule, which was to be enforced from May 1, stated that those who did not voluntarily revoke their hukou within a month of being told to do so would have their household registration forcibly terminated.

Shanghai orders citizens to give up their local residence rights if they have a foreign green card

The move drew heated debate among residents as holding a hukou grants them a number of rights ranging from social welfare services to children’s admission into local schools. There was also anxiety across the nation as others feared the policy would eventually be expanded to other cities and provinces.

But in an abrupt U-turn on Sunday, the Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau said in a statement on its official social media account that it would not revoke residents’ hukou after all.

It cited a lack of clarity in national rules defining what it meant for a Chinese citizen to “settle down abroad”.

China bans its citizens from having dual nationalities or citizenship, but since 2003 regulations have required people who plan to move abroad permanently to revoke their local household registration.

But the regulation, which does not clearly differentiate between Chinese passport holders who become foreign citizens and those who merely have permanent residency rights abroad, has rarely been enforced.

“As there is still no clear definition on what ‘settling down abroad’ entails in the 2003 border entry and exit rule, Shanghai police will not be revoking these residents’ hukou at the current moment,” the statement said.

Chen Yao, a public administration professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s school of international and public affairs, said the city had issued the policy to revoke residents’ hukou before properly researching the issue.

“The policy was apparently derived from the city’s pressure to meet its population target of capping the number of residents below 25 million by 2035,” Chen said.

But the authorities only realised later the rule would counter its aim of attracting and retaining global talent, he said, plus the proposal has drawn considerable public resistance.

Shanghai’s population was officially put at 24.19 million in 2016, including people who hold hukou in the city and those who had lived there for more than six months.

But some police sources and academics have estimated the real figure is as high as 30 million.

“The police’s change of decision demonstrates Shanghai’s dilemma – it needs to both control its population and attract international talent at the same time,” said Chen.

Shanghai wants you ... but can it really be as attractive to foreigners as Hong Kong?

A finance industry executive who lives in Shanghai with a city hukou, but also has a US green card entitling her to live and work in America, welcomed the authorities’ new stance.

“I don’t think revoking our hukou was legally correct in the first place. It’s good that the police have decided to change the rule,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified.

“I hope that in the future they can solicit public opinion first before creating such regulations. It’s not appropriate to announce a ban on something and then withdraw their own order later.”