Even migrants who have lived in cities for many years, or the urban-born children of such migrants, are given far less access to government-funded health care and education than other city dwellers. This is because their rural hukou is often impossible to change.But last week the government quietly announced a gradual loosening of the rules:
By 2020, according to the plan, 100m migrants are to obtain urban hukou. This is a cautious target. The government admits it would still leave 200m people—by then roughly two-thirds of migrants—without city-resident status. Some state-run newspapers say it would mean, on average, that 17m migrants a year would get urban hukou. That would be a step up, but in recent years the numbers have already been rising fast, albeit from a low base. The government said last year that between 2010 and 2012 an average of 8.4m a year had been granted urban status.
Crucially, the plan does not suggest when the hukou system might be scrapped altogether. And it still allows bigger cities, which migrants prefer, to continue usinghukou barriers as a way of trying to limit population growth. In the 16 cities with more than 5m people, officials will be allowed to give hukou only to migrants who gain a certain number of points (in cities that have experimented with this, points are awarded on the basis of educational qualifications, property ownership and other factors that rule out most migrants). Even in the smallest cities only migrants with “legal and stable” work and accommodation—which many do not have—will be able to get urban hukou.So, in effect, the policy leaves a lot of rural to urban migrants in the position of second-class citizens. This is similar to what happens to undocumented immigrants to most rich countries but the difference here is that these people are all Chinese citizens. They are in the country legally, but they are not supposed to be in cities. That tide is unlikely to be turned, and the Economist implies that the government really just doesn't want to have to pay for urban amenities for this large and growing population.