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October 2014, Volume 21, Number 4

China: Hukou

The number of internal rural-urban migrants in China, 270 million in 2013, exceeds the number of international migrants, 232 million. Only 170 million of the internal Chinese migrants move long distances; the other 100 million leave their rural villages, but remain in the same province. Migrants earned an average 2,609 yuan ($425) a month at the end of 2013.

Since Chinese citizens receive public services such as education and health care in the place where they are registered, rural-urban migrants and their children have limited access to local public services where they work. Migrants who stay within their province may want to buy apartments in provincial cities so that their children obtain a better education.

The hukou or household registration system was introduced in 1958 to prevent rural-urban migration that could lead to urban slums and unrest.

The Chinese government on July 30, 2014 issued guidelines aimed at reforming the hukou system; it wants 100 million rural-urban migrants to have urban hukous by 2020. To minimize the costs to urban areas of providing public services, the government issued rules on how urban hukous are to be granted by city size. For example, cities with fewer than 500,000 residents must freely grant urban hukous to rural-urban migrants, while those with 500,000 to one million residents may impose conditions such as requiring migrants to have jobs.

Cities with more than five million residents may impose the most conditions, including fees, on migrants seeking urban hukous. In large cities, migrants seeking urban hukous must have a stable job and own or rent a place to live in the city in which they want to be registered. Chinese authorities want to limit the growth of mega-cities. Beijing's population almost doubled between 1990 and 2011 to over 20 million, including 7.4 million rural-urban migrants.

Some economists suggest that giving rural-urban migrants secure urban hukous will raise productivity. One study found that after migrants became permanent urban residents, their productivity rose by over 25 percent.

Emigration. The Wall Street Journal reported August 16, 2014 that two-thirds of Chinese with assets of at least $1.6 million have emigrated or are planning to leave for reasons that range from a search for better education systems for their children to cleaner air abroad. Some of those leaving want their children to avoid test-driven Chinese schools, while others believe that their wealth will be more secure in Australia, Canada or the US.

The Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council says that the Chinese diaspora numbers 48 million, double the size of the Indian diaspora. Historians say that the Chinese diaspora has often shaped events within China, explaining why the Chinese government is very interested in overseas Chinese. For example, Chinese in Southeast Asia provided critical support for Sun Yat-sen's 1911 revolution that toppled the Qing dynasty.

Countries to which richer Chinese migrate are ambivalent about accepting more. Most welcome Chinese investment in real estate, although there are fears that Chinese buyers are pricing local buyers out of markets from Australia's Gold Coast to Vancouver. Chinese are the largest share of foreign students in Australia, Canada, and the US, and there are as many Chinese as British students studying full-time for master's degrees in the UK.

Over 100 million Chinese went abroad in 2013 as tourists. Their number is expected to top 200 million by 2020.

The average Chinese lifespan almost doubled from 40 in 1950 to 76 in 2011, when the US average was 79. About 30 percent of Chinese adults are obese or overweight, compared with 70 percent in the US, prompting speculation that Chinese authorities may be able to prevent the weight gains that often accompany affluence by taxing and restricting access to sugary soda and fatty food.

China, which has a middle class of 350 million to 400 million, larger than the US population, consumes half of the world's pork.

Hong Kong. There were 320,000 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong in 2013, including half from the Philippines and 47 percent from Indonesia. Almost half of the 2,664 licensed employment agencies in Hong Kong, 1,276, place domestic workers into private households. Some agencies require domestic workers to take out loans in order to be placed into jobs.

The Fair Employment Agency is a non-profit organization that aims to reduce the indebtedness of foreign domestic workers. Once domestic workers arrive in Hong Kong, they are supposed to pay a maximum of 10 percent of their first month's pay or HK$401 in repayment. Many agencies charge workers HK$20,000, and often lend the money at interest rates of 70 percent or more, so that domestic workers have small net earnings for their first eight months in Hong Kong.

The Fair Employment Agency charges employers HK$8,000 for each domestic worker, the standard fee. The FEA hopes that it can show how ethical recruitment is good for both employers and workers. It wants to expand and eventually certify other ethical agencies.

There were student-led protests in Hong Kong in September 2014 because mainland China refused to allow all candidates to compete in the election of the new chief executive in 2017. Hong Kong, often called China's financial window to the world, has a Basic Law that grants freedom of speech and other rights in the one-country, two-systems framework. Candidates for Hong Kong chief executive in 2017 must be nominated by a Beijing-dominated nominations committee.

Foreign domestic helpers, who often congregate in Chater Garden and other areas of the central district, were warned to stay away from so-called Occupy Central protests to avoid arrest and deportation.

Taiwan. There were 713,000 foreigners living in Taiwan June 30, 2014, including 517,000 migrant workers. Most were from Southeast Asian countries, including 43 percent from Indonesian, 26 percent from Vietnam, and 19 percent from the Philippines. Taiwan's minimum wage will rise from NT$19,047 a month to NT20,008 in 2015.

The Ministry of Labor in September 2014 announced that migrant workers would no longer have to return to their home countries every three years. The policy change was welcomed by both employers and migrant advocates, who said that migrants would save up to $2,000 each in brokerage and travel costs and employers would save any costs involved in training replacement workers.

Taiwan's Council of Agriculture in October 2014 announced plans to begin recruiting foreign farm workers. Many of the workers employed for wages on Taiwanese farms are elderly, and most rural youth leave farming areas for education and do not return.