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February 2000, Volume 7, Number 2

China, Hong Kong

Internal Migration. There are 60 to 80 million migrants in China and a great deal of controversy over what to do about them. The policy options range from facilitating migration to tightening the Hukou registration system that limits the rights of persons away from the place in which they are registered.

Most migrants head for China's three largest cities—Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. In China, all migration is considered temporary unless a person's Hukou registration is changed. Persons away from their registered residence more than three days are supposed to register in the area they are visiting/living.

Shanghai has an estimated 15 million residents, 13 million registered residents and two million migrants—there were 500,000 migrants in 1983, 1.3 million in 1985, and 2.8 million in the mid-1990s. About 62 percent are male and 86 percent are 15- to 60-years old. Shanghai classified jobs into three categories: "A" jobs are freely open to migrants, "B" jobs are open to migrants under certain conditions, and "C" jobs are closed to migrants. Employers of migrants are supposed to pay 50RMB a month in addition to other payroll taxes—half of this levy goes into an unemployment fund for which only urban or registered Shanghai workers may draw benefits.

A 1995 survey found that migrants worked longer and earned less than Shanghai residents—an average 55 hours a week compared to 42 hours, for 560 RMB a month compared to 835 RMB a month for locally registered workers. Migrants were far less likely to have health insurance or pensions—10 to 14 percent compared to 80 to 90 percent. However, migrants earned on average three to four times more in Shanghai than they would have in their areas of origin.

Migrants are liable for many fees, ranging from a 15RMB a month service fee to a 60RMB required health check. Many migrants are self-employed and are liable for fees of several hundred RMB for business licenses and booths. There are two major types of housing—that are available only to those registered in the city—typically allocated by state-owned enterprises at low rents—and that available on the open market. Migrants crowd into the housing available in the open market and are often blamed for crime. One article concluded that "Workers without an urban residence permit suffer from general social discrimination. They are not only treated unequally in wages, housing, medical care, unemployment insurance and schooling for their children, they also face the risk of being fired at any time."

Beijing has an estimated three million migrants, persons registered in rural and agricultural areas. Most leave their families behind, but there are at least 100,000 children of migrants in Beijing and they cannot attend public schools unless their parents pay high fees. Most migrants cannot, because Beijing and other cities prohibit them from holding all but the lowest-wage jobs; cities also charge migrants fees for many of the licenses required to operate. Private and unlicensed schools have been developed to educate migrant children for smaller fees—under $100 a year for migrants whose wages average $100 a month.

About 50 million workers enter the 750-million strong labor force each year. State-owned enterprises are shedding about three million workers a year and China in January 2000 announced that private enterprises would be placed on an equal footing with state-owned firms for the first time since 1949 in the hope that they can create more jobs. China promised to "eliminate all restrictive and discriminatory regulations that are not friendly toward private investment and private economic development in taxes, land use, business start-up and import and export."

Smugglers. Chinese authorities reported that they had apprehended 925 smugglers or snakeheads in 1999 and detained 9,129 people who were trying to slip out of China illegally. China says that most of the migrants attempting to be smuggled abroad "are ordinary people and have never been wrongly treated in their hometowns [their] applications of some for political asylum are merely pretexts to stay there." China says that the practice of Australia, Canada and the US to give asylum to some migrants sustains the smuggling business.

Chinese law provides two- to seven-year prison sentences for smuggling people out, and fines of 1,000 (US$120) to 5,000 yuan (US$602) for migrants. Smuggling is concentrated in the southeastern Fujian province, which announced that it arrested almost 600 smugglers in 1999. Taiwan returned 1,166 illegal immigrants to China in 1999 and has 1,400 unauthorized mainland Chinese in detention.

China's economy grew by about eight percent in 1998 and seven percent in 1999; seven percent growth is projected for 2000.

Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Department of Immigration will conduct a screening of 5,700 migrants in the landmark right of abode case to speed up the review of removal orders filed by mainland Chinese in Hong Kong who say they are eligible to live there; in February, some of the migrants granted legal aid to appeal were released from detention. Another 2,500 mainlanders are appealing a decision not to provide them with financial aid to make their appeals.

Xu Ganlu, the Director of the Exit and Entry Administration under the Ministry of Public Security in mainland China, was arrested in January 2000, charged with illegally issuing one-way permits to as many as 500 mainlanders to immigrate to Hong Kong.

In 1999, some 4,314 illegal workers were arrested in Hong Kong, compared to 5,949 in 1998.

Cliff Buddle, "Government to screen migrants in landmark abode case," South China Morning Post, January 19, 2000. Paul Shin, "UN: China violated refugee law," AP, January 14, 2000. Marcos Calo Medina, "Hong Kong Addresses Human Smuggling," AP, January 12, 2000. Zhang, Kangqing. 1999. Urban Secondary Citizens: Low-Skill Temporary Workers - The Case of Shanghai.