In early June, Guangdong in south China unveiled a points system for the millions of farmer-turned-workers in the province hoping to settle in cities and towns. A migrant worker will be qualified to apply for urban household registration once his or her points accumulate to 60, said a document of the provincial government. At the same time, his or her spouse and minor children can also be registered.
Under the new system, migrant workers earn different points depending on their educational background, skill level, social security records and participation in charity activities such as donating blood. For example, a senior high school graduate will receive 20 points, compared to 80 points for a university graduate. Criminal records and other offending behaviors will lead to a deficit in points.
Lin Wangping, Deputy Director of the Guangdong Provincial Bureau of Human Resources and Social Security, estimated 1.8 million migrant workers would become urban residents in Guangdong via the points system before the end of 2012.
"In addition to helping speed up the province's urban construction, the points system aims to let more migrant workers share in local economic growth achievements together with urban residents and help build a harmonious society," said Lin.
Guangdong is one of the major destinations of migrant workers in China. In recent years, many places in Guangdong have seen serious "migrant worker shortages." If a certain number of migrant workers from elsewhere in China settle in Guangdong, they will stay there and ensure there's a steady supply of labor.
This points system, however, is also quite controversial.
Many think "free migration" is the final goal of the reform of the current household registration system, but the launch of the points system moves in the opposite direction. However, supporters of this policy believe that every reform needs time and it's impossible to completely remove current restrictions to realize free migration. Guangdong's policy has already greatly lowered the threshold and is thus a big step forward.
Yang Peng (Huashang Daily): Theoretically, Guangdong's new policy increases opportunities for some migrant workers to become urban residents. But it's not a feasible way for every migrant worker.
The current household registration system draws a distinct line between urban and rural residents and both have different rights. This is the original driving force for the household registration reform. The points system is undoubtedly a hard test that urban residents have put before migrant workers. The applicants have to accept it. However, the test itself is quite problematic. After all, among migrant workers, few have college education or above. Also, while it's great to encourage them to do charity work, these people may need help themselves. There is also worry about corruption.
Guangdong's new policy is not a household registration reform in the real sense and is not good enough to be set up as an example for reform in other regions.
Yi Hui (hlj.rednet.cn): Guangdong's new policy implies the inequality of the current household registration system. While only excellent migrant workers can become urban residents and enjoy full benefits attached to the status, a native urban resident can enjoy them without any effort.
Actually, this policy has raised the urban household registration threshold rather than lowered it. In 2001, China began the reform of its household registration system in small cities and towns. In the following years, towns and small cities throughout the country all removed barriers for migrant workers' household registration without using a points system.
Nonetheless, since the points system will be put into practice in Guangdong Province, it will be more difficult for migrant workers to go through urban household registration in small cities and towns than before, let alone in large and medium-sized cities.
China's current household registration system will continue for a certain period of time before it's replaced by a personal identity-based management system. The biggest problem of Guangdong's new policy is that it's even more unfair than the existing household registration requirements in small cities and towns, smearing the government's credibility.
Ma Zhihai (Information Times): While the points system in Guangdong is praised as a big step forward that provides experience to break the current rural-urban dual system and help migrant workers get integrated into urban life, it is actually no different from migrant population-targeting policies in other regions.
For example, if a migrant worker has a college education or above, he or she is able to apply for urban household registration immediately. However, God knows how many migrant workers have received a college education. Most of them are junior or senior middle school graduates and some are even illiterate. For a senior middle school graduate for instance, the diploma earns 20 points and the job as an elementary worker brings 10 points. As for the remaining 30 points, he or she can only be successful by paying in full the pension, medical insurance, maternity insurance, industrial injury insurance and unemployment insurance. Even so, he or she can only earn five points every year and has to work for six years to get the full 30 points.
Of course, if one is eager to become an urban resident, they are able to achieve the goal by taking part in blood donation or other kinds of charity activities. A donation of 1,000 yuan ($147) means another 2 points, but no matter how much work a migrant worker has done or how much he or she has donated, he or she can, at most, earn 10 points.
Besides, if one performs so well that they win a high-level award, they might get 100 points at a single time. However, such things rarely happen and, given the large migrant population, the chance for this kind of luck to befall a worker is very slim.
As long as discrimination against migrant workers and their population does not diminish, any new policy is in essence the same as the ineffective ones that came before.
A major step forward
Fu Ruisheng (Qianjiang Evening News): Many Chinese cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, have started programs that grant excellent migrant workers urban household registration. Some cities have even given permanent residence directly to migrant workers who have won a national honor for their work. However, only a small portion of migrant workers qualify for these programs.