Migrants to gain as China reforms residence system

A security guard keeps watch at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Dec 10, 2015.
A security guard keeps watch at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Dec 10, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

Citizens who move to cities to work to get better access to welfare, education from Jan 1

BEIJING • China's Cabinet has issued detailed reform plans on the nation's residence permit system, paving the way for changes that could give millions of migrant workers better access to education and welfare in cities.

Chinese citizens who have lived in cities outside their hometowns for more than six months, with legal and stable employment or accommodation, will now be allowed to apply for residence permits, according to rules issued by the State Council yesterday.

The move, effective from Jan 1, will help "promote the healthy development of new urbanisation" and "promote social fairness and justice", the Cabinet said.

All Chinese citizens have a hukou, or residence registration account, which determines their access to education and other social welfare services.

But the quality of services tied to a rural hukou is inferior to that of an urban account, a source of grievance for millions of Chinese migrants who live in cities but do not enjoy the same welfare services as permanent urban dwellers.

Ensuring a fair hukou system is crucial in supporting the world's second-largest economy because it increases labour mobility at a time when the Chinese working population is shrinking. It would also lift domestic consumption by allowing migrants to put down roots in cities.

Ensuring a fair hukou system is crucial in supporting the world's second-largest economy because it increases labour mobility at a time when the Chinese working population is shrinking.

It would also lift domestic consumption by allowing migrants to put down roots in cities.

Chinese leaders have pledged to loosen their grip on residence registration to try to remove obstacles to the country's urbanisation drive.

Local governments will be responsible for providing basic public services, including education, social security and healthcare, for holders of residence permits, the new rules state. Qualified holders of the residence permits will be able to get a permanent hukou at places they live.

Many big cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, have already implemented the new system.

The government said earlier this week that it will give household registration permits to its unregistered citizens and make medical insurance coverage more equal, as it looks to overhaul systems often under fire for failing those people most in need.

The move on household registration will open access to basic rights such as schooling and healthcare for about 13 million people.

The government is struggling to balance goals such as encouraging the migration of millions of former farmers into cities, while avoiding the slums and unemployment problems that have occurred in other countries experiencing similar migration.

Unregistered people make up about 1 per cent of the entire population. They include orphans and second children born illegally during the period of strict enforcement of the one-child policy, the homeless and those who have yet to apply for one or who have simply lost theirs.

REUTERS, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 13, 2015, with the headline 'Migrants to gain as China reforms residence system'. Print Edition | Subscribe