Latest population statistics show migrants still on the margins in Guangdong

More than one third of the population of China’s most prosperous province, Guangdong, are migrants, according to the latest census statistics. Despite recent attempts by provincial authorities to better integrate Guangdong society, there are still 36.7 million migrants in the province, out of a total population of 104 million.

And in the major manufacturing centres of the Pearl River delta, the migrant population far exceeds that of the urban population. In Shenzhen, for example, out of a total population of 15 million, only 2.7 million have an urban residency (户籍). Likewise, there are some 6.4 million migrants in Dongguan, out of a total population of 8.2 million.

Well over half the migrant population of Guangdong are now “new generation migrant workers;” those born in the 1980s and 90s. It is estimated that at the end of 2010, some 19.9 million of the province’s 26.6 million rural migrant workers were aged between 16- and 30-years-old. The vast majority of migrants were employed in low-paid jobs in the manufacturing and service sectors.

The provincial government claims that it will aim to give 1.8 million migrants residency in Guangdong this year, however, it is highly unlikely that young migrant workers will benefit from this policy. Although restrictions on residency have been relaxed slightly in recent years, the provincial and local governments still only select the most eligible candidates, usually those with long-term, well-paid jobs and property or investments in the city.

However, most of the migrant population in Guangdong are still relatively transient, with 53.6 percent coming to Guangdong less than a year ago. Indeed, many migrants are not even interested in getting Guangdong residency because they see no advantage in doing so or think the qualification procedures are too onerous.

Several experts attending a government conference on Guangdong’s population management on 2 August called on the authorities to lower the threshold for Guangdong residency and devote more government revenue (much of it derived from migrant workers’ labour) towards the integration of migrants by giving them, and their children, better access to education, healthcare and welfare benefits.

The head of the Central China Normal University Political Research Institute, Xu Yong, pointed out that Guangdong needed to heighten migrants’ sense of belonging, and suggested the government should encourage migrants to participate in community building by protecting their right to vote in, discuss, criticize and supervise local politics. “By giving them a voice you will give them a greater sense of responsibility and help eliminate the feeling of being an outsider,” he said.

The Guangdong conference came after several high-profile riots and violent conflicts between migrants and locals, which highlighted the fragile nature of social stability in the province.
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