Many migrant workers in south China's Guangdong Province returned to their home provinces in the wake of the global financial crisis. But it is not the only reason, officials of the local labor and railway authorities said.
China's latest decision to expand transfers of land-use rights held by farmers also attracted some migrant workers to rush home.
Liu Hong, a farmer of Sichuan, was waiting for a home-bound train with his wife at Guangzhou Railway Station this week.
"We need to finish some sub-lease documents and come back to work as soon as possible," he said.
The trip was made after China issued a breakthrough rural policy last month, allowing farmers to lease their contracted farmland or transfer their land use right, which will give farmers opportunities to conduct scale management and new business operations.
In the past, farmland was collectively owned, but meted out to farmers in small plots on long term leasing contracts.
The couple worked in a clothes company in Guangzhou's Xintang Township, earning about 2,000 yuan ($292.8) a month.
"Our income is dropping, but we still can survive on it in the city," Liu said.
The third reason for the departure of migrant workers was the severe snow and rain storms that paralyzed massive rail, air and road service early this year. Millions of people were stranded from getting home for family reunions during the lunar Chinese New Year period starting on February 9, said Yin Zhongmin, head of the Guangzhou Railway Station on the north-south Beijing-Guangzhou rail trunk route.
Those who missed the annual opportunity of family reunions last lunar year are choosing to spend more time with family members and return home earlier than usual, even two months before the Spring Festival which falls in late January, 2009.
Yang Bin was about to get onboard a train to his hometown of Chongqing Municipality a few days ago.
"I didn't go home last year and I missed my wife and parents so much," he said at the station.
Yang worked in a furniture plant in Dayong Township of Zhongshan City, Guangdong, with a monthly income of more than 2,000 yuan.
"Most of the enterprises in Dayong operated normally and I never heard of any shut down," he said.
More than 60,000 people departed via rail from Guangzhou every day since late October, a slight increase than the same period of last year, according to Yin Zhongmin.
While admitting there were many going home, Zheng Qiang, director with the labor section of Sichuan provincial government's branch in Guangzhou, Guangdong's capital, said it has not yet become a tidal wave.
Many were indeed leaving as small labor-intensive and export-oriented enterprises shut down or suspended production, or their income began to shrink due to the sluggish world economy, Zheng said.
"But, there has been no exodus of migrant laborers so far in Guangdong," Zheng told Xinhua based on an ongoing investigation in the situation of Sichuan natives that were working in Guangdong.
Sichuan, in China's southwest, is the country's largest source of migrant workers, who are mainly engaged in labor-intensive businesses in different regions. About 5 million Sichuan natives were in Guangdong alone, according to Zheng.
Chongqing Municipality, Henan and Hunan provinces also send out huge amounts of rural laborers to prosperous regions and thus face a job situation similar to that in Guangdong.
Zheng predicted that up to 2 million Sichuan natives in Guangdong may return home before the Spring Festival, almost double the number of last year.
The railway and labor authorities are paying great attention to the situation and working on measures to cope with, Zheng said.
The employment situation of migrant workers in Guangdong remained stable but the prospect appeared grim, Xiao Zhiheng, the executive vice governor of Guangdong Province said on Wednesday.
The Human Resources and Social Security Minister Yin Weimin on Thursday also described China's job picture as "grim" and indicated that the global financial crisis may lead to more job losses.
Yin forecast further employment difficulties in the first quarter based on an inspection this year by the ministry, affirming that there have been "no large-scale migrant labor returns."
He expected an improvement in the second quarter when government measures to boost domestic demand began to take effect.
Migrant rural workers, whose number is estimated at 150 million, "were the most vulnerable and worst-affected group, so the government should help them not to be frozen in the harsh economic winter," said Zhang Hong, professor with Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade.
To boost employment and help enterprises survive the crisis, China has taken several measures, including increasing the export tax rebate rate three times in the second half and cutting administrative fees.