A couple of months ago, I commented on an article in The Economist detailing the plight of "left-behind children" caused by the rigidities of the hukou household registration system in China. A few days ago, the Chinese government announced that it would be lightening things up at least a little. The NYTimes fills in some details.
Migrants can apply for a residency permit if they have lived in the city they are applying in for a certain time and have a stable job, place to live or are studying, a statement posted on the Cabinet's official website said. Permits will enable them to access benefits including basic health care and children to have nine years of compulsory education.
While all cities must follow the new policy, cities can enact their own regulations according to "local conditions," the Cabinet said. This is likely to mean that big cities like Beijing will continue to be encouraged to control their population and have more stringent criteria for residency.The latter caveat may be crucial. If cities where migrants really want to go decide not to loosen the reins on the household registration system, then the policy may just be a bit of window dressing. It will go into effect on 1 January, so time will tell if this really makes life better for rural to urban migrants in China.