Beijing Plans Reforms to Regulations Governing Migrants; Some Propose Tightening Controls (Updated 1/28)

February 11, 2005

According to a January 26 report in the Beijing News, the Beijing local people’s congress (LPC) agenda for 2005 includes plans to abolish regulations limiting business and employment opportunities for migrants in Beijing. Sources in the Beijing LPC say that the proposed reforms would relax current requirements that migrants in Beijing obtain specific authorizations before they start a business or accept a job. The proposed reforms, however, would neither change the current requirement that migrants obtain temporary residence permits nor assure migrants equal access to public services such as education. As noted in the Freedom of Residence section of the Commission’s 2004 Annual Report, the major legal barrier facing rural migrants to Chinese cities is discrimination in access to public services.

In a contrary development, however, a Beijing legislator has submitted a plan for tighter administrative controls over migrants. A January 25 article reports that Zhang Weiying, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, has submitted a proposal to establish a system of administrative permissions that would limit the number of migrants who may come to Beijing. Unlike the hukou system, which primarily regulates an individual’s ability to obtain public services, Zhang's proposal appears to establish a coercive mechanism to control migration to Beijing. China has lacked such a coercive administrative system since the State Council abolished the custody and repatriation system in 2003.

Among the specific groups to be excluded from Beijing under the proposal are the unemployed and beggars, Zhang told reporters. But the educated and wealthy would be favored. Zhang herself suggests that her plan has municipal support, and the Beijing Planning and Development Commission expressed its approval.

Zhang’s comments seem to have sparked vigorous debate among academics and intellectuals, who have compared China’s treatment of its migrants unfavorably with that of other countries. This negative commentary may have prompted Beijing officials to announce the regulatory reforms described above on January 26.

One media report on the issue suggests that the Beijing government is planning to abolish the temporary residence permit system entirely. However, an article that appeared on the Ministry of Justice Web site on January 28 contradicts such suggestions, saying that local Beijing police officials are unaware of any such reforms. The article further notes that abolishing the temporary residence permit system would be meaningless absent extensive reform of the many public services that are commonly linked with migrants' hukou status.