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Beijing Lifts Controls on Migrants

Beijing announced the end of its rules limiting the life and work of immigrants on March 25. While praising the local government's magnanimity, experts also worried that the capital will face a population expansion in the near future.

Deputies to the 19th session of the 12th Beijing Municipal People's Congress agreed, after serious discussion, to annul the city's 10-year-old rules that limited immigrants' access to jobs and housing.

"The limits that disturbed the life and work of immigrants are now legally invalid, and non-natives will completely enjoy the same rights and services with Beijingers in business and looking for work," said Zhou Jidong, director of Beijing Municipal Government's Legislative Affairs Office.

"The rules contradict the basic principles of the market economy and are unworkable in the real practice," Zhou said.

The municipal government lifted some of the limits last May. Since then, the government has not interfered with the field, scope or managing methods of immigrant-run businesses.

In the past, migrant workers had to apply for six or seven certificates to work in Beijing and were charged more than 400 yuan (about US$50) by the government in administrative costs each year.

Though good news to local immigrants, the abrogation of the rules has prompted worries that the city will suffer a population explosion.

The registered migrant population in Beijing was 3.6 million at the end of 2004, about one quarter of its total population.

"Undoubtedly, the Beijing Municipal Government will face a great challenge, for they have to change their administrative methods," said Professor Wang Yukai from the National School of Administration. "They must take into consideration social equity, market order and resources and find the best plan to guarantee the interests and rights of all strata of society."

Wang said the discriminatory rules are the residues of China's planned economy, which is being phased out. "There was no respect for the basic rights of citizens," he said.

But the city's limited natural resources and the soaring population will bring big pressures to the government.

He said the city's energy and water shortages are the biggest problem, as Beijing has dwindling water, electricity, gas, heating and coal.

The city is also paying much intangible social resources to guarantee the rights of the immigrants.

Beijing began solving the education problems for 200,000 children of immigrants in 2004. Beginning this year, immigrants with temporary living permits can buy cars with Beijing license tags. Insiders say this will increase auto sales by 100,000 every year. "This has caused a sense of crisis in local people worried about limited education and transportation resources," Wang said.

Wang said the annulment of the rules is not enough. If no new measures guarantee the "healthy lives" of the city's natives, new conflicts and inequity will occur.

The municipal government said it is working hard to control the number of immigrants, but experts say that it is almost impossible for Beijing to deal with the population expansion alone; it needs a nationwide adjustment by the central government.

(Xinhua News Agency March 27, 2005)

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