The recent move by Zhejiang province to ease restrictions for non-locals to obtain permanent residency in most cities of the province will attract more rural people to settle in urban areas and further bridge the urban-rural divide, said experts.
According to an official document published online on July 3 by the provincial government, restrictive policies related to residency applications in all of Zhejiang's cities — except for the provincial capital, Hangzhou — were to be abolished starting July 22.
In particular, it was announced in the six-part circular that restrictions for rural residents to live permanently in cities had been further relaxed.
Zhejiang is the first province in China to be designated as a demonstration zone for achieving common prosperity, said Zeng Gang, a professor from East China Normal University's Institute of Urban Development, "and the new initiatives will help with the pursuit of the goal by narrowing the income gap between cities in Zhejiang and between urban and rural areas."
Cai Jiming, a professor from Tsinghua University's Institute of Economics, said the initiatives could be a boon to the cities' workforce.
"More farmers choosing to permanently live in cities means more labor supply," Cai explained, adding that the relocations will also be key to future economic development, especially in the face of a declining population and labor force.
Statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics showed that China's population fell by 850,000 year-on-year to 1.41 billion in 2022, the first decline in more than six decades, while Zhejiang registered 65.7 million long-term residents by the end of 2022, up 370,000 year-on-year.
During the same period, the province recorded 412,000 births and 409,000 deaths.
Previously, it wasn't hard to encourage rural residents to live and work in cities for the short term, according to Cai, but it was difficult to persuade them to stay permanently, due to a lack of benefits they enjoyed from life in the countryside.
Until recently, most Zhejiang farmers were reluctant to move their rural hukou, or household registration, to cities, as many villages or towns earned income from land management and collective enterprises, which would then be distributed to farmers with local hukou, Zeng added.
The farmers would have had to give up those benefits if they decided to opt for an urban hukou, Zeng said.
These concerns have been addressed in the newly released rules. For instance, the circular stipulated that rural residents who decide to become permanent urban residents should continue to enjoy their land contract rights, homesteading rights and the right to share in the proceeds from collective rural operations.
It has made employment security for rural migrants a top priority, including strengthening vocational skills training, and it has pledged to provide better education for their children, as well as better housing and healthcare for them and their families, among other benefits.
Experts also believe that the policy initiatives will speed up Zhejiang's urbanization.
"Only when a city reaches a certain size can it generate more benefits," Zeng said.
While Zhejiang is not the first to scrap household restrictions — provinces such as Anhui, Shandong and Jiangsu have introduced similar measures — it is among the earliest to systematically implement policies targeting rural populations.