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Beijing’s new household registration system raises concerns

Last week, Beijing released a draft regulation which would allow migrants to apply for household registration or hukou based on a points system.

Under the current household registration policy, a beipiao, literally meaning Beijing vagabond, who wants to have a Beijing hukou should be a fresh graduate employed by a qualified company, or a civil servant. Also, there is an annual quota for qualified applicants set every year.

The new points system would allow old graduates who have studied and worked in Beijing for many years to apply for a hukou.

For some beipiao, this is definitely “a long-awaited historic moment”. However, not all beipiao can benefit from this new regulation, as the regulation somehow raises the “price” of a Beijing hukou, and makes it more difficult for certain groups to get it.  

Basically, applicants should be under the age of 45, have a residence permit in Beijing, and have paid social insurance premiums in Beijing for at least seven consecutive years. Besides that, applicants should not have violated Beijing’s family planning policy and have no criminal history.

However, the requirement for paying social security for seven consecutive years will rule out a large number of applicants, as a payment might have been halted due to a job transfer to another city and overseas education.

“It would be more reasonable if we change it into seven cumulative years,” Gao Wenshu, a professor at the Institute of Population and Labor Economics, said in an interview with CCTV NEWS.

In addition, the applicants’ employment, accommodation, education background, skill level, tax payments, credit records and legal compliance will be converted into specific points, and applicants can get a Beijing hukou after reaching certain score. Although who would be in charge of the calculation of the scores and what would be the behind-the-scene process are yet to be known, Beijing has promised to publish the threshold every year according to the population change.

Beijing is not the first city in China to adopt the points-based household registration system and it follows Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. But the four cities use different standards to calculate the score, in terms of education background and employment. While the lowest education level in Beijing to apply for a points-based hukou is technical degree (similar to that of a community college in the United States) having a job at a high-end company, the requirement of Guangzhou and Shenzhen is lower. Public transport drivers, municipal workers, and medical staff all have the opportunity to get a local hukou, according to Chinese report.

Under Beijing’s points-based system, an applicant with a technical degree will be awarded 9 points, bachelor’s degree 15 points, master’s degree 27 points, and doctoral degree 39 points.

“This means the system is favoring top talents,” Zhang Yi, a social science researcher of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said, “Many laborers without a technical degree may have been working in Beijing for many years. This system is unfair to them, which needs to be improved in the future.”

Beijing is the city with the toughest hukou regulation in China. And the new policy came as China announced its determination to further reform its household registration system last year, to control the population growth in developed cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

At the closing ceremony of Beijing’s latest plenary session on November 25, Guo Jinlong, the party secretary of Beijing, said that population was the “most troubling issue” facing the development of Beijing. The number of 23 million residents, the ceiling for Beijing’s permanent residents by the end of 2020, is based on the water supply in Beijing, which is very low, he said.

According a report released by the Beijing Statistical Information Net in January 2015, the number of permanent residents in 2014 was over 21 million, among which more than 8 million were migrants, increasing by over 4.5 million in the past decade. Although the rate of the increase in the number of migrants has declined to 1.7% in 2014 from 2011’s 2.9%, Beijing has announced to reduce the increase by 15% by the end of 2020 compared with that of 2014.

The most challenging part in controlling population is the downtown area in Beijing, (in many cases referring to districts within the fifth ring road of Beijing), Guo said. To realize the 15% goal, the city also needs to transfer some of the non-capital functions, tackle air pollution, as well as modify the economic structure, which will benefit from the population control policy, he noted.

Applicants who live and work in the suburbs will be rewarded, while those who move to downtown from suburbs will face deduction. Applicants who work in designated start-up companies will be rewarded, while for those who work in companies which need to be transferred, the points will be deducted, according to the draft regulation.

However, as Zhang Yi said, this would encourage people to buy a house in suburbs while still work and rent a house in the downtown area, which might be contradictory to the government’s original goal to control the downtown population.

“What matters is to relocate the companies instead of the flow of the employees,” he added.

This draft regulation is soliciting public opinion and will be reviewed by central authorities before it is implemented.

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