China to make it easier for citizens to settle in small and medium cities

By Reuters   August 3, 2023 | 01:15 am PT
China to make it easier for citizens to settle in small and medium cities
People walk on a bridge at the West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, August 31, 2016. Photo by Reuters/Aly Song
China will relax restrictions for its citizens hoping to permanently settle in small and medium sized cities, state media reported on Thursday, but changes in the biggest cities such as the capital Beijing will be more limited.

The public security ministry will promote the "comprehensive lifting" of urban settlement restrictions in cities with a permanent resident population of less than three million and "fully relax" settlement conditions for cities with a permanent resident population of three to five million, Beijing Daily reported.

The move signals that elements of China's 14th five-year plan announced in 2021 are being implemented and marks a further relaxation of the 'hukou' household registration system which for decades has split people along urban-rural lines and thus determining their access to welfare, education and services.

Under the hukou system, hundreds of millions living and working in China's cities have not been able to enjoy the same access to services as those with permanent residency. This has caused much resentment, for example because children, who are unable to attend schools in certain cities, have had to return to their distant home towns and be separated from their parents.

Over the past decade a number of cities, in some cases in pilot schemes, have relaxed these policies. Last month the eastern province of Zhejiang said it would lift all such restrictions for all cities except for its capital, Hangzhou. Thursday's announcement signals a much larger, nationwide relaxation.

For the "super-large" cities which have a permanent resident population above 5 million, such as Beijing and Shanghai, the changes are more muted. China will improve the points-based policy for people hoping to settle in these cities, the report said, a fact not lost on internet users.

"Let's talk about this once you've relaxed the policy in the biggest cities," said one user on social media platform Weibo.

China's largest cities, also amongst its wealthiest, have the best schools and hospitals and are considered to offer the best job opportunities.

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