Beijing's 7.6 Million Migrants Get New Shot at Residency Status

  • Hukou system links access to services to residency permits
  • Millions of migrants have limited healthcare, school options

Beijing plans to set up a points system to allow the city’s migrant population to claim permanent residency permits if they meet criteria in an effort to improve a system that’s left 7.6 million in the nation’s capital without access to key public services such as health care and access to schools.

Applicants for a permanent residency permit -- known as a hukou -- should be under 45 years old, already hold a Beijing temporary residency permit and have paid social security premiums in the city for at least seven consecutive years, according to the draft plan released Thursday by municipal authorities. Applicants’ employment status, educational background, skills level, tax payments, credit records, and other details will be converted into points.

The draft plan, out for public feedback until Dec. 30, was issued after a high-level reform meeting chaired by President Xi Jinping on Wednesday pledged to improve the situation for those without hukou who face difficulties in applying.

"It is a basic legal right for Chinese citizens to lawfully register for hukou. It’s also a premise for citizens to participate in social affairs, enjoy rights and fulfill duties," according to the statement released Wednesday after a meeting of the central leading group for comprehensively deepening reform.

The capital city’s hukou reform plan was released more than a year after the State Council, China’s cabinet, decided in July 2014 to overhaul the household registration system. Similar point systems are already in place in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Tianjin.

"It’s a step in the right direction and is likely to work well in Beijing," said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics Ltd. in Singapore. "That said, this approach would face challenges if expanded nationwide. Converting their hukou from rural to urban means relinquishing their rural land rights which could potentially be quite valuable in future."

Migrants may feel that it’s worth acquiring hukou rights in big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, but will likely think twice about doing so in smaller cities where the benefits are less significant, he said.

Introduced in the 1950s, hukous link access to services and social welfare to residential status, leaving many who have flocked to China’s coastal regions over the past three decades without the rights of those born in the cities. Among other failings, the system is a key reason behind high precautionary savings levels which act as a brake on consumption.

Beijing’s permanent population -- including the so-called migrants -- exceeds 20 million, more than London and New York City combined. People with Beijing hukou enjoy better educational opportunities, employment support, senior care and social welfare. 

"The new system will allow migrants to have the chance to become a real part of the city," the official Xinhua News Agency said.

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