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April 2001, Volume 8, Number 4

China, Hong Kong Migrants

Internal. Internal migration within China is similar in many respects to international migration for employment, in the sense that the Chinese registration system acts as a barrier to rural-urban movements. China strictly regulates internal migration; the Household Registration Law classifies all Chinese as rural (nongye hukou) or urban resident (Chengshi jumin hukou), and ties access to housing, some jobs, and public services such as schools to the registration system- a child outside the area in which he is registered cannot attend public schools.

Incomes are far lower in rural than urban areas, which has prompted rural-urban migration, and stories of abuse at the hands of urban authorities. Migrants are "illegal migrants" in Chinese cities, and can be fined and deported back to the place in which they are registered.

Premier Zhu Rongji in March 2001 pledged to improve farm production in the western part of the country- from which many migrants come- by encouraging farmers to use better seeds and to produce crops under contract, and to "explore a land operation rights transfer system."

Much of the Chinese migration is circular, meaning that the migrant retains a link to his village--Chinese terminology distinguishes between migration (quanyi), an official change of household registration, and floating population (liudong renkou). Many Chinese migrants in Chinese cities retain a link to the land, including the fear that government policy may change and force "agricultural" residents back to the countryside.

There have been calls to end the household registration system and allow migrants to change their registration if they have in the destination area "a stable residence and job, or have directly-related members of family or guardian to undertake the duty of support, maintenance or guardianship."

Emigration. Most Chinese migrants who leave the country are from the southern coastal provinces of Fujian and Guangdong. However, there is increased emigration from the northeastern provinces of Liaoning and Heilongjiang. Migrants from these areas can travel overland to Russia, and from Moscow fly west.

In Fuzhou, the capital of East China's Fujian Province, 400 smugglers were arrested in 2000, and 98 were sentenced; many of the others are awaiting sentencing. In 2000, some 1,020 illegal migrants were returned to Fujian, down from 2,894 in 1999.

China has 48 corporations that are licensed to export workers.

Hong Kong. The Hong Kong government outlined plans on March 9 to lower the educational requirements for financial and information technology workers to work in Hong Kong. Currently, Hong Kong's talent-scheme candidates needed doctoral degrees and research experience. Under the new plan, professionals with a bachelor's degree will be allowed, but they can not bring any family members.

Maids from India, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand held a rally in March 2001 to protest what they considered to be "unfair" treatment in Hong Kong. Foreign maids in Hong Kong earn at least HK$3,670 per month, down from HK$3,860 until 1999, when the minimum pay was cut during the Asian financial crisis. However, many maids complain that they earn less, and that they face deportation or abuse at the hands of their employers if they complain about underpayment. According to the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, there are around 200,000 foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Immigration Department has found that between July 1997 and January 2001, 1,991 babies had been born in Hong Kong to non-permanent Chinese residents. The government argued on March 6 that if the Court of Final Appeal grants abode status under the Basic Law to a case under consideration regarding a three-year old boy, it could open up the system to abuse by pregnant women. The boy was born in September 1997 when the boy's parents were visiting on two-way permits. A ruling by the Court of Final Appeal is expected in April.

"Foreign maids rally against 'slavery' in Hong Kong," Associated Press, March 11, 2001. "Hong Kong relaxes rules for Chinese professionals to migrate," Associated Press, March 9, 2001. Ali Lawlor, "Judges mull Basic Law abode referral," Hong Kong Imail, March 7, 2001. Ali Lawlor, "Baby boom warning if boy is allowed to remain in SAR," Hong Kong Imail, March 7, 2001.