China's population of floating migrant workers reached a record 211 million by 2009 and will hit 350 million by 2050 if government policies remain unchanged, according to a report released on Saturday.
The number, however, could increase at a slower rate if the number of new workers joining the migrant population continues to fall each year.
By 2050, only about 3 million are estimated to join the migrant population each year - a number in stark contrast to the current 6 million new people who join the migrant work force each year. The report on the development of China's floating population is the first of its kind released by the National Population and Family Planning Commission and will be updated each year in the future.
"The migration of the people, be they domestic or international, help drive the nation's development, and therefore they should be protected based on law," said Thomas Sinkovits, the China representative of the International Organization for Migration, at the report launch.
Also, the rights of the floating population should be highly respected and should be the same as the locals, he said.
"Due to China's unique institution of hukou, or residence permit, the colossal mobile population has almost become a third sector in addition to the rural and urban populations," said Zhai Zhenwu, director of the school of population and sociological studies at Renmin University of China.
China has to assure migrant workers of their equal rights for public services regardless of their hukou status, he said.
Currently, migrant workers who have toiled in cities for years are still not entitled to the same rights as their urban counterparts, including reproductive health and family planning services, social welfare programs such as work injury insurance, and access to local education resources for children, Zhai said.
More families within the country moved to other places and chose to settle their homes there, causing more pressure on the government to reform its management and service policies for the migrant population in order to ensure their livelihood, said the report.
In China, although the number of long-distance migrants decreased in 2009 as a result of a weakened demand for labor caused by the financial crisis, the long-term overall tendency of people moving to eastern coastal areas and key traffic hubs will not change, the report said.
"That also helps maintain the social stability and harmony," said Li Tie, who heads the city and township development research center under the National Development and Reform Commission.
Civil riots in 2005 in Paris, France, for example, were related to mounting dissatisfaction from marginalized immigrants mainly from Africa, experts said.
In China today, the issue of migration within the nation and the needs of migrant workers need to be addressed, urged Li.
In response, the commission set up in 2008 the floating population service and management department to help the migrants mingle into the society of their residence and gradually enjoy the same rights as the locals.
(China Daily June 28, 2010)