Millions of unaccounted-for migrant workers may soon have to register with the municipal government to give a truer reflection of its population numbers.
Shanghai municipal government is considering modifying its population policy to allow the migrant workers to register with the city.
"Measures will be taken to regularly collect personal data about migrant laborers who have lived in the city for more than half a year," said Xie Linli, director of Shanghai's Municipal Population and Family Planning Commission.
Existing methods monitoring unemployment do not include migrant workers, keeping the figure artificially low, experts say.
Last November, the city registered an unemployment rate of 4.8 percent.
Some city districts such as Minghang are already experimenting with the new policy.
"The policy change aims to work out more precise statistics on the city's total population for government reference," said Xie.
"The city's migrant population is estimated to far exceed four million," said Zhang Henian, deputy director of the Institute of Population and Development Studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.
Official figures are unavailable but government statistics showed it to be around 4 million in 2000.
But, Zhang said, those figures were not based on regular registration of migrant workers.
"What we need to do is to make it clear what the total population (of Shanghai) is before talking about (changing) our population policy," Zhang said.
Shanghai's population was estimated at around 17 million at the end of 2003, including 3 million migrant workers who lived in the city for at least six months, according to a recent report by the commission.
But the actual population figure could exceed 20 million, according to commission officials.
"Under the current registration system, which only takes into account 13 million registered residents, the city's total population is hard to count," said Zhang.
Xie said the plan is not an attempt to limit Shanghai's population because, in the long run, the city still needs to grow.
"There is no immediate need to limit the city's total population despite increasing pressure from migrants," Xie said.
"I personally believe that a population of 20 million puts no pressure at all on Shanghai's future," Zhang said.
Immigration has been solely responsible for Shanghai's growth since 1993.
However, the local authority is planning to control population growth in the city's congested downtown areas. Up to 40,000 people per square kilometer live in some of the most densely populated districts, according to the Shanghai Municipal Development and Research Center, although 1,500 residents live per square kilometer on the average.
These controls will be countered by accelerated urbanization in Shanghai's suburbs.
"Suburban development will help ease population pressure on downtown areas because some residents can move to the suburbs where they can have better housing. The city government is considering loosening certain population policies in the suburbs," said Wang Zhan, director of the Shanghai Municipal Development and Research Center.
"But refining the city's population distribution will be a long process," Wang added.
At the same time, Shanghai is leading the country in amending its decade-old family planning policy.
Sources with the Shanghai Municipal People's Congress told China Daily that a new regulation on family planning is expected to be adopted later this year.
Under current regulations, if one member of a couple in rural areas is disabled to a degree that his or her ability to work is affected, the family can have a second child.
If the amendment is approved by local people's congress, that right will be extended to urban families.
Couples in their second marriage will also be affected by the amendment.
Under current regulations, they can only have a child on condition that one of them does not already have one.
The amendment removes that prerequisite.
The old regulations also say couples must wait four years before having their second child. Under the amendment, that interval is removed.
City officials hope the system will help couples better plan when they have a child.
(China Daily January 6, 2004)