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Household Registration is the Obstacle to Urbanisation

A report showing that the urbanization rate of rural household in China is only 27.6 %. Over 70% of migrant workers do not want to work in their rural hometown.
“Migrant workers” is used to depict in general the mobile working population between the inland provinces and the industrialised and urbanized cities in the coastal areas in China. They are half-prolaterianised maintaining a connection to the land in the place of origin. This depiction lumps migrant workers of different migration and settlement patterns together without distinction. Although the household registration system has not reformed in the last two decades, the changing labour market in the coastal, as well as leveled up urbanization in the inland provinces have resulted in divergent pathways and choices of the migrant workers.

The survey released by the China Data Centre of Tsing Hua University in October 2013 recognises that the rate of urbanization in China is still low . Registered urban households account for only 27.6% of the total population. If that is a benchmark of the level of urbanization in China, the growth rate of urban household registration is surprisingly low at 7.7% per year in the last twenty years, according to the survey.
The figure tells contradictory stories. There is no standardized integration policy and the provincial and local governments are free to decide their own. More and more second or third tier towns and cities are opening their urban household registration to attract more manpower and urbanization projects. Yet they are not the priority choice for the majority of the migrant workers who look up to the first tier cities for development opportunities.
 On the one hand, millions of acre of rural land has been lost to the government and developers with the rural residents being evicted. They have lost their means of living and are forced to find jobs in the rural towns and cities. On the other hand the landless residents are faced with the problems of low-end jobs, limited development prospects, higher costs of living and insufficient social security benefits in the rural towns and cities. It is also true that many of them do not want to quit the rural residential registration which entitles them to a number of base-line subsidies. Others are speculative, preferring to rent houses in the rural towns and keep the household status, expecting compensation derived from more urbanization projects. At the heart of the problem is the discrepancy between rapid urbanization in the economic and infrastructural sense, and the lagged-behind social protection of the rural and urban population on universal and leveled bases. The lack of reform in the household registration system is the biggest obstacle to urbanization that puts human interest first before other things.

The policy of fostering mobility is enjoyed by the non-rural population
The Tsing Hua University survey also finds higher mobility amongst the urban migrant workers (23.7%) who have quitted their rural registration and are seeking jobs from one place to another between the first and second tier cities. A lower mobility rate is noted amongst the rural-urban migrant workers (21 %). The survey finds that the urban migrants are more resourceful in access to the integration policies whereas the rural-urban migrants who still carry the rural household registration status suffer from continuous discrimination. The survey further doubts whether the urbanization and integration policies of many of the local governments are reinforcing the discrimination and social inequality by mainly targeting the urban migrants at the expense of the rural-urban migrant workers.
The land expropriation and demolition on 16% of families in China
In many cases urbanization is forced and the rural residents are simply driven out from their land in government-led eviction. Many do not want to farm in the new land compensated to them and yet the social security protection and job opportunities promised them are not satisfactory or accessible. Less evicted rural residents chose to continue and do farming in the compensated land. The rate is even smaller amongst the rural-urban migrant households (47.7%). The latter is virtually cut from the land, increasingly by the policy of the government of the place of origin.
Over 70% of migrant workers are not willing to work in their hometown
It is also the choice of more and more rural-urban migrants to abandon the land, especially the young generation migrant workers born in the 1980s and 1990s who now represent 49.1 % of total migrant population in China. Only 3.8% of the surveyed migrant workers born in the 1990’s are willing to farm. Although they prefer working in the urban towns and cities, up to 80% of them are unable to make the decision about their future between the rural and the urban. They are incapacitated by the discriminatory migrant policies of the government and the limited choice of low-end jobs.

Driven by a sense of insecurity, migrant workers show a stronger desire to own a flat or house in the cities than the local residents. Again there is differentiation between the urban migrants and the rural-urban migrant workers. The urban migrants having secured the urban household registration are more urged to settle down in the cities and up to 80% of them own their places in the place of work. Whereas only 21.6% of their counterparts still holding rural household registration are able to do so. This distinction again shows a bifurcation amongst the migrant population. A small proportion of the migrant workers are being integrated by urbanization and benefiting from the policies while a majority of them are not.

The survey conducted by the China Data Centre of Tsing Hua University examines the impact of urbanization on rural migrant workers in China and the extent of their integration by drawing data from 31 provinces, cities and autonomous regions in China.


15 January 2014

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