20 September 2019
Shanghai has put up barriers to curb the rapid growth of migrants in the city. Photo: Reuters
Shanghai has put up barriers to curb the rapid growth of migrants in the city. Photo: Reuters

Thirteen years and still waiting for a Shanghai hukou

A woman in her 30s, who hails from a remote village in Anhui province, has spent 13 years in Shanghai — four years in college and nine years as a clerk in a big company in the city — but she has yet to obtain her Shanghai residency, or hukou. By comparison, a mainlander who has lived seven years in Hong Kong is eligible to become a permanent resident of the former British dependency. Despite her fluent Shanghai dialect and thorough assimilation in the city’s life, the woman can’t call herself a genuine Shanghainese.

Being China’s predominant metropolis that offers better social welfare and career opportunities, Shanghai is a magnet for people from all over the country. Of its 24.15 million residents as of the end of 2013, up to 10 million are non-locals. Shanghai saw an inflow of 347,200 people last year — virtually the population of a medium-sized city — and more than 85 percent are migrant workers and new college students from other regions, according to the city’s statistics bureau.

Many locals resent the swelling ranks of migrants in the city; for them it means bigger crowds and longer queues as well as less access to government services and benefits.

Following Beijing’s cue, Shanghai has put up barriers in the past decade to curb the growth, and for the first time, Shanghai mayor Yang Xiong {楊雄} vowed in this year’s annual government work report that the local government would proactively contain the excessive inflow of people and scrutinize hukou applications more closely while assuring locals of priority in the delivery of services, Shanghai-based Xinmin Evening News reports.

There was a time when Shanghai embraced newcomers with open arms. In the early 2000s, many secured Shanghai residency by buying homes there. Non-local homeowners were given “blue chop” certificates — quasi-hukou permits stamped by the city’s public security bureau — that enabled holders to enjoy basically the same benefits as locals. Those who had jobs and regularly paid their taxes and social security contributions could apply for a Shanghai hukou.

But this “blue chop” policy was replaced by a points-based permit system in 2008 as hordes of speculators flocked to the city and were blamed for the soaring property prices. The rationale behind the move was to exclude non-locals from the city’s social welfare system.

Under the new regime, points were calculated according to an applicant’s age, educational background, occupation and other criteria, and those with a score of 71 or above could be given a hukou. 

Unfortunately, despite being a graduate of the city’s prestigious Fudan University {復旦} and holding a job at a state-owned enterprise, our woman from Anhui was still three points below the passing mark.

It is said that an applicant has a slim chance of landing a hukou if he or she is not the recipient of some national-level credentials such as an outstanding graduate commendation. But the problem is that the municipal government has not set up an independent vetting committee with specific guidelines to process the applications. As a result, according to local media reports, some fixers are able to realize huge profits by supplying fake certificates to less qualified hukou seekers.

The latest development is an enhanced “living permit” system launched in July last year. Various sets of criteria tailor-made for college graduates, industrial workers, capital investors and migrant workers were introduced. Virtues like job creation, considerable tax contribution, investment in suburban districts and a long period of working in the city will earn extra scores.

The most significant breakthrough is that children of the new living permit holders can take the college entrance exams in Shanghai and be allocated quotas just like locals, while their spouses can also be included in the city’s pension and social welfare system.

The move is a big step forward as it recognizes the contributions of migrant workers and those who have resided for a considerable length of time in the city, granting them the benefits of having that elusive residency permit.

– Contact the writer at [email protected]




EJ Insight writer