Migration in China
Internal migration in the People's Republic of China is one of the most extensive in the world according to the International Labour Organization. In fact, research done by Kam Wing Chan of the University of Washington suggests that “In the 30 years since 1979, China’s urban population has grown by about 440 million to 622 million in 2009. Of the 440 million increase, about 340 million was attributable to net migration and urban reclassification. Even if only half of that increase was migration, the volume of rural-urban migration in such a short period is likely the largest in human history.” Migrants in China are commonly members of a floating population, which refers primarily to migrants in China without local household registration status through the Chinese Hukou system. In general, rural-urban migrant workers are most excluded from local educational resources, city-wide social welfare programs and many kinds of jobs because of their hukou status.
In 2011 a total of 252.78 million migrant workers (an increase of 4.4% compared to 2010) existed in China. Out of these, migrant workers who left their hometown and worked in other provinces accounted for 158.63 million (an increase of 3.4% compared to 2010) and migrant workers who worked within their home provinces reached 94.15 million (an increase of 5.9% compared to 2010). Estimations are that Chinese cities will face an influx of another 243 million migrants by 2025, taking the urban population up to nearly 1 billion people. This population of migrants would represent "almost 40 percent of the total urban population," a number which is almost three times the current level. While it is often difficult to collect accurate statistical data on migrant floating populations, the number of migrants is undoubtedly quite large. “In China’s largest cities, for instance, it is often quoted that at least one out of every five persons is a migrant.”
China's government influences the pattern of urbanization through the Hukou permanent residence registration system, land-sale policies, infrastructure investment and the incentives offered to local government officials. The other factors influencing migration of people from rural provincial areas to large cities are employment, education, business opportunities and higher standard of living.
- 1 History and origins
- 2 Occupational profile
- 3 Causes
- 4 Benefits and costs
- 5 Impacts
- 6 Policy theories
- 7 Sources and destinations
- 8 Foreign and ethnic groups
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
History and origins
The unique Hukou system of China distinguishes Chinese internal migration from migration in other developing countries. The Hukou system originated in 1951 and it was initially established to monitor the population and parole criminals. The universal Hukou System that restricted the mobility of the population was established in 1958. It aimed to tie farmers to land, secure agricultural supply as well as to support industrial sector in cities after the Great Leap Forward and Great Chinese Famine which caused at least 30 millions deaths. The government allocated housing and jobs, food and other necessities based on the hukou system, which made it almost impossible for people without local Hukou status to live in urban areas.
In addition to Hukou system, the People’s commune system was another tool to control labor mobility. Under the People’s commune system, the earnings of farmers were closely related to their daily participation in the collective farming. In 1978, during Chinese economic reform, this system was replaced by the Household-responsibility system.
Huang and Pieke divide the migration policy evolution after Chinese economic reform into four periods. The first period is from 1979 to 1983, during which government still prohibited migration. The second period is from 1984 to 1988 when farmers were allowed to enter urban areas on the condition that they provided their own food. The third period is from 1989 to 1991 when migration became much more popular and attracted much attention from the government. The fourth period is from 1992 to 2000, during which the government in some degree encouraged migration, while urban local governments controlled migration more strictly because of high unemployment rates in cities. Since 2000, the government has been planning a reform on the Hukou system and allowed more mobility.
From 1949 to 1985, the average migration rate for China was 0.24, compared with world average of 1.84 from 1950 to 1990. Since mid-1980s, rural to urban migration became a constant social phenomenon. Zhao and Sicular report that the number of rural-urban migration doubled between late 1980s and mid 1990s. In 1989, there were 8.9 million migrants and in 1994 the number increased to 23.0 millions. In 2006 it was estimated that China was experiencing a –0.39 per 1,000 population net migration rate. According to National Bureau of Statistics, there are 252.78 million migrant workers in China in 2011.
Rural-urban migrant workers have a significant presence in China’s labor force. Migrant workers comprise 40% of the total urban labor force. 68% of workers in manufacturing, nearly 80% in construction and more than 52% in wholesale and retail are rural-urban migrant workers. Among migrant workers themselves, 25% are employed in construction, 24% in manufacturing and 20% in wholesale, retail and catering. In addition, 18% are employed in the tertiary sector of the economy and the number is still increasing. There are also 80 million workers working in the informal sector and it is estimated that between two-thirds and three-quarters of all new employment is in the informal economy. In the informal economy, many rural migrants are engaged in low-paying and temporary jobs such as sanitation workers and porters. Zhu addresses that they are not “employed” in the informal sector, but they “have access only” to the informal sector.
Scholars agree that there is a sharp occupational segregation between migrants and the local population. Around 52% of migrants are self-employed, while 12% of the local residents are self-employed; 12% of migrant workers are employed in the public sector, compared with 68% of the local workforce.
The degree of segregation varies from province to province. A series of field studies by CCER demonstrate that the labor market in Sichuan province is relatively integrated, while that in Guangdong province and Shanghai is quite segregated with “rural migratory-worker urban-resident-worker dualism”.
In addition to inadequate social protection, the primary reason of the occupational segregation is the migrant workers’ lack of skills and education, which keeps them in manual labor. Migrant workers have less human capital since they have three years less schooling, shorter current job tenure and work experience as well as less frequent training compared with the local residents. Moreover, because of high rate of job mobility among rural migrant workers, employers have little incentive to train them and thereby prevent them from increasing their social capital.
The driving forces of rural to urban migration are commonly characterized by push and pull factors. Younger migrants are more influenced by “pull” factors, such as "expected earning opportunities", "personal development aspirations" and "urban lifestyle". Older migrants are more driven by “push” factors including labor surplus or "difficult living conditions". “Push” factors also have more positive impact on women’s decision to migration. Besides the push and pull factors, the effects of other personal and household characteristics, such as age, gender, education level and family size also have some influence on migration decisions.
Labor surplus in the rural area is often regarded as the main push factor of internal migration in China. Central to this theory is that surplus rural labor provides needed labor force for industrial growth in urban areas On one hand, the Household-responsibility system (HRS) established during Chinese economic reform was productive and generated surplus labor in rural areas. On the other hand, in urban areas the development of the special economic zones and industries created demand for labor force. Some scholars state that, while the surplus rural labor is viewed as the main “push factor”, demand for labor can be regarded as the main “pull factor”. Others contend that high unemployment rates in urban areas rejected this paradigm.
Early in 1970, Harris-Todaro model recognized that the persistent wage differential between urban and rural sectors is a main "pull" factor of migration in developing countries. Zhu presents a model of migration in his study and confirms the significance of the urban-rural income gap for migration decisions. Cai’s studies demonstrate that increase of the ration of local rural income to the average national rural income will reduce migration. Migration in China is driven not only by the huge rural-urban income gap, but also by the regional income gap. Many migrants flow from the western region with low incomes to the eastern region with higher incomes.
Migrant networks have a positive and significant effect on subsequent migration and thereby result in chain migration. The idea of migration might influence not only family members and relatives but also people in the same area. Migrant networks can reduce cost of labor migration by means such as providing job information and supportive relationship and thereby encourage migration.
According to a study conducted by UNDP, about 95% of rural migrant workers found jobs through friends or by themselves, less than 1% found jobs with government assistance, and 2% found jobs through employment departments or public recruitment agencies.
Benefits and costs
- Increased supply of labour in urban areas
- Increased income for the poor
- Poverty reduction
- Access to education opportunities for migrant workers
- Access to diverse labour market for migrant workers
- Increased income remittance of Migrants to their families in rural regions.
- Migrant workers access to higher standards of living.
- Increase of new knowledge and skills for migrants
- Migrant workers increase the local population creating demand for services
- Increased environmental degradation and pollution
- Travelling costs a lot of money, when compared to Chinese average income.
- Overpopulation in municipalities and sub provincial cities
- Development of migrant suburbs with no access to local health care, education, workplace protection
- Depopulation of rural regions as breadwinners go into the prosperous region
- Increased crime and safety issues
- Increased demand for resources such as water, electricity and sanitation
In general, the current system of circular migration of floating populations in China offers greater labor resources to coastal areas of high economic activity, but “although labor productivity in migrant activities is higher than it is in local nonfarm sectors, the current economic cost of migration in China is so high as to significantly limit such reallocation. The current system therefore works to reduce the overall productivity of labor and causes a tremendous loss of social resources.” In other words, research done by Yaohui Zhao at Beijing University indicates that while economic theory demonstrates labor migration to increase efficiency due to the reallocation of labor, the economic cost of migration actually mitigates gains in efficiency enough that internal migration under the Hukou system results in financial and social losses instead of gains.
Class and inequality
At a group expert meeting of the United Nations in January 2008, a number of class-based implications of Chinese urban growth due to migration were identified, including “wage arrears, unfair compensation for land expropriated, urban poverty,” issues of “public safety and social stability,” and the potential creation of a “permanent urban underclass” of 200 million or more workers. Class inequality is commonly reflected in income differentials; “in urban China, urban resident annual earnings are 1.3 times larger than long-term rural migrant earnings as observed in a nationally represented sample in 2002.” Additionally, migrant workers in China are generally excluded from the social services their local neighbors enjoy; “migrant workers’ basic needs for housing, social security, and education for their children are not protected by the local government.”
The floating population of Chinese migrant workers “presents major public health challenges, especially in the provision of reproductive health care for migrant women and the need to address the increased risk to both sexes of infection with sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.” A survey of migrant workers published in the journal “Public Health Reports” indicated that “forty-seven percent of the migrants were unwilling to make contributions to health insurance,” and “poor living conditions and inattention to health may make migrants vulnerable to poor long-term health.” Despite these health issues presented by the floating population, certain factors mitigate the health impact of internal migration in China. In a questionnaire administered to a variety of rural, urban, and migrant workers in Zhejing Province, Eastern China, 2004, indicated that “Migrants had the best self-rated health and reported the least acute illness, chronic disease, and disability, after controlling for age and education.” In light of this data, the researchers concluded that the migrants had zero HIV infections, and the migrant workers examined demonstrated the “healthy migrant effect.” Despite this, migration still creates a negative effect on public health due to the lack of affordable health care.
Historically, “migration has been associated with increased vulnerability to mental health problems,” and this has prompted some research into the mental health status of China’s hundreds of millions pf rural-urban migrants. Research by scholars from Zhejiang University and the UCL Centre for International Health and Development has however revealed that “rural-urban migrant workers in this part of China are not especially vulnerable to poor mental health.” They believe that this “may result from a sense of well being associated with upward economic mobility and improved opportunities, and the relatively high social capital in migrant communities.” Thus, the “healthy migrant effect” also exhibits itself in the mental health of rural-urban migrants in China.
Migration in China has produced a number of important impacts with regard to gender and gender equality in modern China. In fact, the transition taking place in China of which migration is a part, “is not gender-neutral,” and “macro social and economic changes have gendered outcomes.” According to research conducted by Youqin Huang and published in the journal Environmend and Planning A, “the constraints of human capital, the patriarchal culture and the Household Registration (hukou) System greatly constrain the occupational attainment of female migrants.” One way in which this may be seen is in the fact that women migrants “can only attain jobs with lower prestige than their male counterparts, such as agricultural work and a few gender-stereotyped, family-related urban jobs.” Despite the disadvantages faced by female migrants in China, some research such as that conducted with data from Hubei Province demonstrates that “migration has enabled women to benefit from economic opportunities and provided them with a degree of freedom that was not possible at their places of origin.” As of yet, there is no scholarly agreement on the net effect of migration in China on gender, due in part to “data limitation and methodological difficulties” and difficulty in comparison of “the various aspects of women’s position before and after migration.”
According to research conducted by Zai Liang and Yiu Por Chen and published in the journal “Social Science Research”, “migration usually has negative consequences for children’s schooling because of the loss of social capital in schools, neighborhood, and community of origin.” Often, migrant schoolchildren and their parents face barriers to good education resulting from their lack of local hukou. In fact, “temporary migrant children are much less likely to be enrolled in school compared to local children,” as well as children in their place of origin. This inequality between migrant and local children has a significant effect on Chinese society as a whole – “as education becomes more and more important for socio-economic mobility in the Chinese society, such disadvantages faced by temporary migrant children is likely to have detrimental and long-term consequences for migrant children and for urban society as a whole.”
Scholars from a wide variety of fields have recommended policy changes in order to deal with the social issues created by floating populations of migrant workers in China. Some scholars believe that “public policies reducing the cost (including the opportunity cost) of education for rural people could help filling the endowment gap between rural migrants and urban residents in the labor market.” Additionally, scholars have recommended that “new policy initiatives concerning the issue of education and migrant children are sorely needed.” Public health scholars recommend that “because health insurance schemes will remain limited for the forseeable future, attention should focus on providing affordable health care to both uninsured migrants and the urban poor.” In light of the migrant worker Foxconn suicides, labor scholars have recommended that “the government should redistribute income and guarantee benefits to rural residents and migrant workers to improve living standards.” Those studying labor mobility believe that “the artificial restrictions under which rural-urban migrants work in the cities, i.e. the prohibition on or impediments to urban settlement, restricted access to skilled jobs, and the system of short-term contracts, may have generated an excessively high migrant mobility rate.”
The issue of internal migration and health in China is intricately linked with the health policies national and local level governments enforce. "Policy toward rural-urban migration in China has undergone a significant shift in the last decade,and improving the working and living conditions and access to health care of migrant workers in cities is now clearly on the agenda of national and local governments. Nonetheless, migrants’ mobility and their concentration in hazardous industries continue to make it difficult to reduce their exposure to environmental and occupational health risks and to ensure their access to affordable care." In order to further improve the "living conditions and acces to health care of migrant workers in cities," a number of scholars have recently provided policy recommendations.
In general, public health scholars recommend that “because health insurance schemes will remain limited for the forseeable future, attention should focus on providing affordable health care to both uninsured migrants and the urban poor.” In light of this recommendation, further research has been conducted in order to assess the status of internal migration and health in China, as well as to provide more specific policy recommendations in order to address any issues. Research conducted by a team from Beijing Normal University and the Institute of Development Studies has provided a number of specific recommendations for policy makers. In a journal article published in The Lancet, this team voiced three primary concerns regarding the health of migrants in China. These concerns consisted of the spread of communicable and infectious disease, migrant maternal health, and occupational disease and injuries such as silicosis, chemical poisoning, and industrial machinery accidents. Beyond these three primary concerns, the researchers advise policy makers and public health officials to pay more attention to two additional issues. The first of these is mental and behavioural health, which is a “domain that is understudied in China.” The second issue they discuss is that of risk perception. Little is known about how migrants perceive the “various possibilities for health care: self-medication, informal healers, traditional medicine, private clinics with varied levels of care, and more formal hospital treatment.” Research into risk perception will “be crucial to prevention, intervention, and other health-related measures for the migrant population in China.
Sources and destinations
According to the International Labour Organization, internal migration in China is defined by two essential features. The first of these is that migrants generally move from farmlands and agricultural areas into more urban areas and developed cities. The second defining feature of Chinese internal migration is that “labour flows are basically directed from the interior to coastal areas, and/or from central and western regions to eastern areas.” These are not independent characteristics; “These two features overlap, and are closely interrelated with the macro socio-economic structure.
The Fifth National Population Census of the People's Republic of China in 2000 counted 42.4 million people living outside of their home provinces (i.e., outside of the province where they were legally domiciled). These would include e.g. migrant workers, students on campuses away from home, but not the military (who, generally, are counted separately from the provinces' and municipalities' populations). The largest migrant population was found in Guangdong (15.0 mln). The rest of China's southeastern seaboard attracted plenty of migrants as well (Shanghai (3.1 mln), Jiangsu (2.5 mln), Zhejiang (2.0 mln), Fujian (2.1 mln)); Beijing had 2.5 million. The coastal Liaoning and Shandong, as well as the inland Yunnan and Xinjiang had over a million migrants each. 
Much of the interprovincial migration was toward the neighboring wealthier provinces or municipalities, if there was one. E.g., over 90% of the Guangxi migrants went to the nearby Guangdong, while over 60% of Hebei migrants went to the Beijing and Tianjin municipalities (which both are surrounded by Hebei's territory). On the other hand, among the Hubei migrants about one half went to Guangdong, and he rest mostly to various other coastal destinations, from Beijing to Fujian.
It is of interest to the Chinese government to control the flow of internal migration in China. However, the flow of migration is large and widespread enough to be difficult for the government to manage. “Despite the Chinese government’s policy of encouraging the development of western regions of the country, China’s coastal regions, and especially the province of Guangdong, experienced the largest increase in the size of the floating population. With less than 7 percent of China’s population, Guangdong has 27 percent of China’s floating population. The size of the floating population in Guangdong nearly tripled between the 1990 and the 2000 censuses.” Such uneven migration can hamper the government’s policy to encourage development of non-coastal regions, which exacerbates the geographic inequality in the country.
Foreign and ethnic groups
Other migration issues include the more than 2,000 Tibetans who cross into Nepal annually, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The government tries to prevent this out-migration from occurring and has pressured Nepalese authorities to repatriate illegal border-crossing Tibetans.
North Koreans in China
Another activity viewed as illegal is the influx of North Koreans into northeastern China. Some 1,850 North Koreans fled their country in 2004, but China views them as illegal economic migrants rather than refugees and sends many of them back. Some of those who succeed in reaching sanctuary in foreign diplomatic compounds or international schools have been allowed by China to depart for South Korea.
Africans in Guangzhou
Africans in Guangzhou are a sizeable community of black Africans primarily concentrated in Yuexiu District and Baiyun District in Guangzhou, China. Since the country's late 1990s economic boom, thousands of African traders and businesspeople predominantly from West Africa migrated to the city of Guangzhou, creating an "Africatown" in the middle of the southern Chinese metropolis of approximately 10 km2. The primarily male population often set up local businesses and also engage in international trade. As a relatively new phenomenon in China, the influx of Africans to Guangzhou has been met with mixed reactions from the local population, and opened new discussions on racism, xenophobia, and immigration, previously unseen in modern China
According to official statistics of the PRC government, the number of Africans in Guangzhou has increased by 30-40% each year, and now form the largest black community in Asia. However, as many have overstayed their visas, official figures may be understated. Estimates vary on the number of Africans living in Guangzhou: from 20,000 to over 200,000. Huang Shiding of the Guangzhou Institute of Social Sciences estimates the number of permanent residents of foreign nationality (six months and above) to be around 50,000, of which some 20,000 are of African origin.
- Demographics of the People's Republic of China
- Economy of China
- Filipinos in China
- Hukou system
- Koreans in China
- Metropolitan regions of China
- Urbanization in China
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