China's most populous province to loosen grip on internal migration

GUANGZHOU (Reuters) - China’s southern province of Guangdong will relax the household registration system that restrains internal migration in all its cities except the powerhouses of Guangzhou and Shenzhen, the provincial governor Ma Xingrui announced on Tuesday.

The move is part of the provincial government’s effort to “accelerate the promotion of new urbanization” and improve county-level economies, Ma said while delivering the province’s annual work report.

The Chinese government has encouraged the relaxation of residency restrictions in many of its smaller cities to help boost the urban population and revive slowing economic growth.

Guangdong’s move follows guidelines from the State Council in December which called for the full removal of resident restrictions in cities with populations under 3 million, and the relaxation of restrictions in cities with populations of 3 to 5 million.

China has a population of around 1.4 billion people and household registration permits, known as “hukou”, have been used to control internal migration for decades. Without a permit, a city resident is denied access to many public services such as education and healthcare. Such restrictions have often been blamed for pushing migrants to the margins of society in China’s cities.

Guangdong is China’s most populous province, with 113.5 million people in 2018, according to the provincial bureau of statistics. It has six cities with under 3 million people and three in the 3 to 5 million range.

Ma said that the province saw estimated economic growth of around 6.4% in 2019. Ma announced a 6% provincial growth target for 2020.

Shandong, China’s second-most populous province, will also follow suit in easing the household restrictions for smaller cities, according to local media reports of a provincial housing conference held in Jinan last week.

Reporting by David Kirton in Guangzhou; Additional reporting by Yawen Chen in Beijing; Editing by Jacqueline Wong