China’s household registration, or hukou (户口) system, has long been a subject of contention, limiting China’s many migrant workers access to public services in the cities where they work. While reform has been discussed for some time, little change has been seen. China, now a predominantly urban society, may soon change the urban residency regulations that effect millions of migrant workers. The Wall Street Journal reports on an official notice published by China’s State Council:
China’s government has published long-awaited regulations allowing millions of migrant workers from the countryside to obtain permanent urban residence permits — and therefore access to public services — in small and medium-sized cities.
[…]The Chinese government has come under mounting public pressure in recent years to reform its hukou–or household registration–system, under which all of its 1.35 billion people are divided into urban and rural residents and allocated public services accordingly.
Most of the estimated 200 million migrant workers in Chinese cities are still registered as rural residents, and therefore don’t qualify for access to urban public services including health care and schooling for their children.
City planners have long seen the system as a way to prevent the formation of slums and to avoid footing the bill for migrants’ welfare. Many experts now see it as an impediment to necessary urbanization and a potential cause of social unrest.
An article from Xinhua explains the State Council’s announcement:
In cities of county-level or below, people who have stable jobs and residences may apply for permanent residence permits, along with their spouses, unmarried children, and parents, according to a State Council circular posted online late Thursday.
In medium-size cities, people who have stable jobs for three years, stable residences, and have paid social security insurance for at least one year, can also apply for permits to live in the city permanently, the circular said.
That means many of China’s millions of migrant workers may be formally accepted as urban residents, giving them more access to public services including welfare housing and medical insurance, which are currently only open to holders of permanent residence permits in many cities.
For more information on migration in China, see China’s Changing Migration Patterns, via CDT. For a view of the life of migrant workers in China, see Dumplings for Sale, also via CDT.