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New residency rule shows bias, migrants say

By Wang Zhenghua and Zhou Yiyi (China Daily)

09:02, June 20, 2012

Lai Xiuying is proud that she prepares dishes every day for students at a college in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province.

As a pastry cook at Zhejiang Gongshang University, the native of a small town in Zhejiang gets up at 4 am and works more than 10 hours a day, six days a week, just so she can realize her dream in the city.

But her plan has been dashed by a regulation that takes effect this month, which states that only migrants with a senior middle school education or above can apply for residence permits and enjoy the favorable policies that come with it.

It's estimated that millions of people in Hangzhou will be affected by the regulation. The city is home to about 4 million migrant workers, or half of its population.

"It's so unfair and sheer prejudice," said the 40-year-old woman, who holds only a junior middle school degree.

Many Chinese cities have put up hurdles to control the inflow of people from rural regions due to the strain that they put on the environment and resources.

Shanghai, for example, has adopted a rating system to evaluate Chinese nationals born outside the city who are seeking a residence permit. A long list of factors are examined, including the applicant's age, education, employment, housing condition, training, professional skills and the industry he or she works in.

Only those with a high score will be granted a permit that allows them to benefit from favorable policies in housing, children's education and other areas.

Hangzhou has been under fire for its new policy on residence permits.

Apart from the education background demands, the city also requires migrants to have a fixed residence, stable job, clean criminal record and hold a temporary residence permit for at least three years before gaining a formal residence permit. Applicants should have also paid social security fees for at least three years and have no family-planning policy violations.

The regulation, promulgated by the standing committee of Hangzhou People's Congress, took effect on June 1 and has been widely criticized for the education degree requirement.

The congress publicity office has accused the media of overlooking the significance of the entire regulation and wrongly "focusing on a single point".

The requirements for residence permits in other cities such as Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing are even stricter, Xinhua News Agency quoted an unidentified congress official as saying. Applicants in these cities are often requested to have at least a bachelor's degree or professional skills and work experience in a certain industry for at least five years.

Migrant workers in Hangzhou called the regulation a prejudice.

"Many people like me dream for a better life here," said Zhang Liying, who is from Shengzhou in Zhejiang and works as a guard at Zhejiang Gongshang University.

"Though most of us only received a junior middle school or primary school education, it doesn't mean we don't work hard," the 41-year-old woman said.

It's also an issue of dignity, Zhang said.

Legal professionals said the education requirements were made without due consideration, and that the country's household registration system, which divides residents into groups of rural and urban areas, is the root of the problem.

It's not difficult for most migrants to get a senior middle school degree, but the phenomenon of being treated differently in the same city will continue elsewhere if there is not a fundamental reform of the household registration system, said Feng Gang, a professor at Zhejiang University's media and international culture school.

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