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Rural Workers Flood Urban Job Markets

The Chinese central government is considering stepping up moves to help the huge number of migrant workers settle in urban areas. Migrants may soon be able to obtain residence registration in more than 500 cities nationwide.

Some six out of 10 urban workers in China are from the countryside, according to a survey made public by the Chinese Federation of Enterprises over the weekend.

The survey, which included 1,000 companies nationwide, said that 57.6 percent of Chinese workers came from rural areas.

The federation called for more measures to help these migrant workers live and work with ease in cities. Some officials and researchers suggested offering schooling for workers' children and removing barriers such as household registration systems to help integrate migrant workers into city life.

Lin Yueqin, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, says more efforts should be put into reforming China's household registration system, enabling migrant workers to reside in cities and become local residents.

Lin says that migrants should have the right to decide where to live.

"If they think the cost of living in cities is too high, they will move back to the villages," he asserts.

Chen Hao, a Ministry of Public Security official, says the central government is considering implementing a number of measures to help China's huge number of migrant workers settle in urban areas. Chen says there is a possibility that migrants will soon be able to register freely as residents in 80 percent of 660 cities nationwide. Cities with excessively large populations will not adopt the measure.

Chen indicates the effort is aimed at reforming the country's rigid household registration system.

Lin says that since the country started transforming to a market economy in the late 1970s, increasing numbers of people have left their hometowns for cities to work or do business.

Problems then emerged as migrants, who totaled some 98 million as of the end of last year, were denied equal access to work, education, housing and other social rights enjoyed by locals.

Lin is more concerned about the education of their children, as millions of rural laborers move to cities for work.

Despite the contributions of migrant families to urban construction, however, schooling for their children in cities receives little attention, largely because of the lingering residency registration system, notes Lin.

(China Daily February 23, 2004)

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