Migrant workers starting to call cities their home

By Liu Yiyu (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-02-08 08:14
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FOSHAN, Guangdong - While Spring Festival is traditionally the time of year when migrant workers from all over China leave their jobs in big cities to return to their hometowns for family gatherings, an increasing number are now choosing to celebrate the holiday in their adoptive homes.

Out of the 1.4 million migrant workers in Foshan city, a manufacturing hub in the Pearl River Delta region, 570,000 decided to welcome Spring Festival in the city this time and not make the trek "home".

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Hu Xiaoyan was among them.

Hu, 37, a native of Sichuan province in Southwest China, was the first migrant worker to be elected to the National People's Congress (NPC), the country's top legislative body.

She has been in the city for 13 years and, in 2009, one year after Hu became the deputy of the NPC, she was able to get a local hukou - the official residency certificate - that now makes her an official resident of Foshan, instead of her rural birthplace in Sichuan. It was only then that she took her twin daughters to the city where she works.

Without a hukou, Hu's children were not entitled to receive a free government education in the city because such schools are reserved for people with a Foshan hukou.

Facing the loss of its labor force, Guangdong's Foshan city introduced a series of local policies and regulations aimed at attracting migrant workers to settle down permanently in the city and one of the measures is offering residency status. Under the innovative score-based program adopted by the local government last year, a migrant worker needs to accumulate a certain number of points - based on such parameters as academic background, volunteer work and social insurance payments - to get a local hukou.

The city aims to grant 10,600 hukou within one year.

"The future is still an uncertainty and I don't know how much longer we will stay here," said Hu. "But I am in love with this city. I am a fan of the local soup and am no longer used to the spicy food of my hometown."

Guangdong province, as one of the first regions in China to benefit from the policies of reform and opening-up, has more than 26 million migrant workers, among which 14 million were born during the 1980s - the so-called new generation of migrant workers.

And many of the new generation of migrant workers are eager to become part of the cities where they now live.

"Unlike the older generation who only work in the cities, more than 70 percent of the new generation of workers are willing to also live in the cities," said Liang Guiquan, director of the Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences.

"They want to earn respect and be part of the city."

Chinese rural residents have been migrating to towns and cities since the late 1970s when the reform and opening-up policies meant fewer farmers were needed to work on the land and more workers were needed in the factories.

Currently, about 150 million migrant workers do jobs in cities, largely as construction laborers and in the service industry.