China Reforms Domicile System

In August this year, the Personnel Bureau of Beijing unveiled a new regulation: It is no longer necessary for a unit in Beijing to add the requirement that employees have a registered permanent residence in Beijing when it advertises for new staff in the media.

Talking about reforms in the domicile system, Yang Yonghe, director of the Office for Management of Personnel Market under the Personnel Bureau of Beijing, said under the new regulation, enterprises have more choice when employing staff, and talented persons who don’t have a registered permanent residence in Beijing can enjoy more opportunities to compete with local citizens on an equal footing.

The reform of the system of residence registration is a certain thing, Yang noted. For several years, opening the residence registration system so that more skilled personnel can work in the city has become a main task for boosting Beijing’s economy and development. The reform will break the traditional pattern of residence registration featuring talented persons belonging to a certain unit, region or province, and create an environment for a rational flow of human resources.

Yang also stressed that enforcement of the new regulation does not mean relaxation of domicile control and arbitrary employment of people coming from other provinces. Those who don’t have registered permanent residence in Beijing but hope to seek a job in the city must meet the requirements of the Detailed Rules of Beijing on Employing Talented Persons From Other Parts of the Country.

But Zeng Xiangquan from Renmin University of China stressed that no matter whether this reform means the relaxation of domicile control or not, it is a signal that Beijing is opening its door to skilled personnel in other regions.

Zeng does not think this new measure will affect the employment of Beijing residents. He explained that it is a way of complementation between Beijing and other regions in the use of human resources. Therefore, the high-tech personnel from outside Beijing may bring technologies and managerial expertise that Beijing badly needs but doesn’t have.

Entering the 21st century, more and more rural laborers have come to cities and towns seeking jobs, which gravely affects the urban residence registration system. Apart from this, as the pace of urbanization accelerates, an appeal for the reform of urban domicile system has been on the rise.

In July this year, Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei Province, announced that it will relax control over domicile in the city and published detailed rules in the media. Ma Jinghua, deputy director of the Division of Residency Administration under Shijiazhuang Public Security Bureau, said those, whose conditions accord with the seven new regulations, could get registered permanent residence in the city.

One month before Shijiazhuang’s reform, Hangzhou began to handle the procedure of domicile change online. In the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, an identity card will replace the function of registered permanent residence. In the city of Ningbo, the difference between urban and rural residence registrations has been cancelled. As early as 1996, people who bought houses or ran a business in Shanghai’s Pudong New Area were able to get a blue registered residence card, although it was slightly different from the local residents’ red one.

In March this year, the State Council approved the Proposal of the Ministry of Public Security on Promoting the Reform of Domicile System in Small Cities and Towns. According to the document, there will be no quota control over registration of permanent residence in small cities and towns. To this action, Beijing’s media said ice on the domicile system began to melt, so people would enjoy more freedom in selecting their residence.

Troubles Caused by Rigid Domicile System

Li’s parents were native Beijing people. Answering the call of the Party of “going to and constructing the most difficult places,” they went to Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in the 1960s, after graduation from university. They married and had a son. After taking local backward living and education conditions into account, they sent their son, Li, back to Beijing to live with his grandparents.

At school, Li had to pay higher tuition fees than others, because he did not have a registered permanent residence of Beijing. Worse still, in the senior middle school entrance examination, Li got the high mark required by a major senior middle school, but he was not accepted because of his domicile.

He was even refused entry by a common school. After half a term, a school in the suburbs finally accepted him. The low level of education in the school dampened his enthusiasm for study, and his school results dwindled.

Hearing this, his parents brought him back to Xinjiang. Soon afterwards he returned to Beijing to study in a middle school.

Without a registered permanent Beijing residence, he was not allowed to sit for the university entrance examination in Beijing. Passing the examination in Xinjiang, a local university accepted him, but he was not satisfied. His hardship affected his school results and made him depressed and melancholy.

Graduating from university, Li worked in Xinjiang for several years. Then he decided to go back to Beijing for career development. Also for reasons of domicile, he and his girlfriend have little choice of jobs. They also cannot have the insurance that units give their staff. They can’t purchase cheaper apartments offered by the Beijing municipal government to local residents. They are unable to get low-interest home loans given to employees in Beijing. They even can’t buy a monthly public bus pass. Living and working in Beijing, they have to make double efforts and pay more than others.

Du came to Beijing and worked as a waitress in a restaurant at the age of 19. After 10 years, she opened a restaurant of her own. Her success story was reported many times by the media, including China Central TV. To offer job opportunities to her hometown villagers, Du recruited employees from her hometown.

But this made her restaurant the focus for check-up during every major holiday occasion. Feeling offended, she sometimes quarreled with law enforcement officials. Talking about this, Du looks puzzled. “We abide by the law in running a business, why are we discriminated against?”

Wang Ming, a demobilized soldier, came from a small village in Sichuan Province, west China. He is employed by a construction group in Beijing. His fellow villagers said his wife, Dong Xiaomei, was lucky as she married a man working in Beijing, and their child could take a job in the city when he grew up.

However, for 10 years after they married, the couple lived separately.

Eight years ago, Dong came to Beijing with their child to live with her husband. Without the registered permanent residence, the couple had to pay several thousand yuan annually as “donation” to a school their child attended. Last year they had to send their child back to their hometown for schooling, because they can’t afford 10,000 yuan annually for his senior middle school education in Beijing, and their child will not be allowed to participate in college entrance examination in Beijing. Worse still, Dong can’t find a job, mainly because she does not have registered permanent Beijing residence. There are more than 20,000 demobilized soldiers in Beijing’s construction sector, like Wang. Most of them have wives in the countryside, and share the same story as Wang.

An Urgent Task

Article 90 of China’s Constitution promulgated in 1954 stipulated that citizens had the right to change their residence. On January 9, 1958, the Standing Committee of National People’s Congress promulgated the Regulations on Residence Management and Registration. It stipulates that citizens who move from the countryside to cities shall have one of the following three certificates:

• Certificate of employment by a labor administration of a city;

• Certificate of admission by a school;

• Certificate of approval for moving by a residence registration administration of a city.

The citizens’ right to freely change their residence, stipulated in the Constitution of 1954, then ceased to be effective. By then China’s domicile control system was formed. In the following years, the Constitution was revised several times, but the issue of residence registration was not involved.

The domicile system divided citizens into several groups, including agricultural residence, non-agricultural residence, permanent residence and temporary residence. More than 10 other stipulations involving education, material supply and other treatments have relations with the domicile system.

An outcome of planned economy, the domicile system restricted farmers from entering cities, which guaranteed a labor force in rural areas. This ensured a supply of low-priced industrial materials, stabilized urban population and maintained high productivity at a low cost. In short, it played a key role in China’s agricultural and industrial development at that time.

After China introduced the reform and opening-up policy, its economy has developed in full swing. The old domicile system failed to keep abreast of the era’s progress, impeding the advancement of agricultural modernization and urbanization.

Under the system, the social demand in urban areas is decided through control of its population. This practice has slowed the pace of urban development and weakened self-regulation of cities. As a result, the municipal administration can’t meet market demands.

During the 20 years after the founding the People’s Republic of China, the number of transregional migrant farmers was less than 5 million. Youth sought their spouses within 25 square km, resulting in the decrease of population quality. The introduction of domicile system also restricted the population flow. Farmers trying to find jobs in cities require not only courage and skills, but also numerous documents and certificates. To get a temporary residence card in cities, they have to pay money. Couples with one partner holding an urban registered permanent residence and the other with a rural one, have to live in two separate places.

To guarantee employment of citizens with urban registered permanent residence, many cities have defined jobs open to people from outside. This has curbed the flow of the labor force and talented persons, and is not conducive to the establishment of a unified labor market in the country. In other words, the current domicile system has become an obstacle for allocation of human resources in line with market demands.

With China’s sustained economic development, the gap between urban and rural areas has been shrinking and the transit population is on the rise. The present domicile system can’t effectively administer the transit population anymore. China’s fifth census conducted in 2000 discovered a severe fault in residence registration. For instance, in Shaanxi Province, 2 million people should register residence there, but did not. In Hunan Province, this number was near 10 million. In Chongqing Municipality, however, residence registrations of 130,000 deceased people were not cancelled. In central and west China, a considerable number of households have moved to other places, but left their registered permanent residence in the original place.

With urban citizens’ priorities continuously shrinking, such as the supply of grain and edible oil, domicile is not very important anymore. Qian Aimei, director of the Residency Administration Division of Shijiazhuang Public Security Bureau, said when registration of residence is not a crucial element in people lives, the system can hardly stop them changing their residences. Under such a situation, opening residence registration will be conducive to population management, Qian added.

Reform: A Stable and Gradual Course

Following the reform of residence registration in 1999, Shijiazhuang began another reform on residence registration this August, Qian said. The reform this time focuses on two aspects.

Firstly, out of humanitarian considerations, infants’ permanent residence registration can follow that of their mother or father. Those who want to change their residence between husband and wife or between parents and children are allowed.

Secondly, it is considered from the angle of absorbing investment and talented persons. When a person from another province reaches the standard set by the city in investment, business operation or commercial housing purchase, they can apply for a permanent residence registered in the city.

The reform this time is undertaken in light of the city’s real situation. Shijiazhuang will seek its own road in domicile reform, Qian said.

Compared with previous reforms, measures adopted this time are more drastic, canceling the following requirements for those who want to be there as a permanent resident.

• They have been married for more than five years, with a partner who is a native of Shijiazhuang, living in the city for more than one year;

• They have invested 500,000 yuan for more than one year in the city;

• They are a businessperson who pays tax of 50,000 yuan annually or 100,000 yuan within three years.

• They buy a house with a floor space of more than 100 square meters or spend over 200,000 yuan on it.

This means the threshold for entering the city will be lowered greatly, Qian concluded.

However, some people aired their different opinions on the reform of residence registration. An official from the city government expressed these worries: The increase in population will put more pressure on employment, security and traffic in the city. In addition, to develop small cities and limit the expansion of large cities conform to the requirement of the State Council.

Officials from the city’s education committee have more worries, because population expansion will inevitably increase the number of school-age children. Are there sufficient schools, facilities and teachers for them?

Regarding these worries, Mayor Zang Shengye believes the reform of residence registration is by no means a disaster. He said what people think about most is their profits. When having a city’s registered permanent residence no longer means preferential treatment, people will not be interested in it. The attraction of Shijiazhuang is not its residence system, but the opportunity to make money.

Zang is confident about the reform, saying it would raise the level of urbanization, promote economic development of the city and increase the quality of its population.

( 09/12/2001)

In This Series

Residency Barriers to Be Lifted

New Job Registration System Expected to Free Labor Flow



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