HONG KONG—Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong kicked off a point-based system at the start of the year under which migrant workers from elsewhere in China can qualify as full urban residents, although officials and lawyers said the scheme still falls short.
Under the new program, piloted first in a single Guangdong city, migrants working in the province will be able to "earn" residency, and therefore rights similar to those of permanent residents, through a points system.
"We are now on the third generation of workers," an official in the Guangdong provincial government said.
"Obviously, the contribution the migrant workers have made has been huge. But what has Guangdong done for the workers these 30 years? Not very much."
Under the "Rules for managing and serving the migrant population," migrants in Guangdong have the right to public health disease prevention services, employment services, and professional training.
But the Guangdong official, who declined to be named, said migrant workers deserved recognition much sooner for their part in China's economic development over the last 30 years.
"It's a bit late, to do this for them after 30 years."
Tough to implement
He said government officials estimate that 30 million migrants from other parts of China, or about a quarter of Guangdong's total population, are currently working in the province.
But he said the implementation of the plan wouldn't be easy.
"Some local [Guangdong] residents will feel the impact," he said.
"I am just concerned that if the policy gets changed, it will suddenly turn a section of residents into hidden second-class citizens."
Guangdong-based lawyer Tang Jingling agreed that the moves are too little, too late.
"It's not to say that such a small change isn't an improvement," Tang said.
"But I think that if the government wants to see real economic results, this won't do the trick."
"It looks to me as if they want to use the points system to perpetuate a system that is basically unfair."
He called on the government to abolish the household registration system entirely.
"The results of this system will ultimately be social unrest and instability," Tang said.
Last month, provincial vice governor Xiao Zhiheng promised the Guangdong authorities would take care of migrant workers' social security, including pensions, unemployment, and industrial injury insurance during the economic crisis.
Such benefits wouldn't be tied to the point system, local media reported.
Meanwhile, central government economists have called on provinces to step up measures to boost the rural economy and remove barriers to the settlement of migrant populations in Chinese cities.
The points scheme has already been piloted in Guangdong's Zhongshan city, where migrants may earn points by investing, buying property, or gaining diplomas and certificates.
The Zhongshan scheme is skewed to encourage more highly skilled workers to relocate to the province.
A migrant with a bachelor's degree scores 80 points, which brings the right to educate children in local schools. A score of 100 points confers full residency.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Shi Shan. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.