Kunming slams the door on migrant workers

17 May 2010
While cities like Shenzhen and Shanghai have gradually made life easier for migrant workers over the least few years by easing restrictions on residency, education and healthcare, the southwestern city of Kunming has just taken a massive step backwards and announced plans to ban all migrants from employment unless they have already obtained a temporary residence permit, and lived and worked in the city for more than a year.

The Draft Provisions on the Management of Kunming’s Residence Permits (昆明市居住证管理规定(草案)), recently issued by the municipal public security bureau, state categorically that employers will not be allowed to hire migrants unless they have a residence permit (居住证). And the only way for migrants to get a residence permit is to have lived and been in stable employment in the city for an entire year or more, thereby making it effectively impossible for newly arrived migrants to get a job, and potentially leading to the widespread exploitation of those migrants already in work. Migrants employed for less than a year will have to accept whatever conditions their employer imposes in order to just keep their job because if they quit they will not be eligible for another job in the city.

This retrograde and blatantly discriminatory measure has already been widely criticized in the Chinese media as unworkable and even unconstitutional. And hopefully the city government will eventually see sense and revise the draft to include rather than exclude the migrants, who currently comprise about 20 percent of the city’s population of 6.2 million. This is a relatively low proportion compared with Shenzhen or Shanghai, but it is one that has grown rapidly over the last few years as the local economy has expanded with the development of major infrastructure projects such as Kunming’s new airport, which is slated to follow Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou as the country’s fourth air hub.

The response of the city government so far to the influx of migrants however appears to be nothing short of panic, pandering to the irrational fears of local residents that migrants will swamp the city, leading to lower property prices and higher crime rates. Kunming appears to have learnt nothing from the experiences of cities with longer histories of immigration who have realized that they do have to make some concessions (however grudgingly) to the group of people who have contributed more than any other to their economic development. Otherwise, those people will simply go elsewhere.

For more information, please see our research report Paying the Price for Economic Development:The Children of Migrant Workers in China.
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