People who live in a city such as Beijing but do not have a local hukou must travel to their home towns to get a marriage license, apply for a passport or take the national university entrance exam. Parents and students say the last requirement is particularly onerous, especially if a student has to take the exam in a province that uses different textbooks.
Some economists here say the hukou system is outdated and unsuited to a modern economy that requires the free movement of labor. Others call it “China’s apartheid,” saying it has created a two-tiered system of haves and have-nots in all the major cities.
“You have a large number of rural migrants who already earn most of their income in the cities, who have been in the cities a long time, but do not have hukou-related benefits,” said Tao Ran, an economist at Renmin University. “This system is very bad; it’s ridiculous.”