Buying Beijing citizenship

By Jiang Jie Source:Global Times Published: 2013-10-24 0:53:00

Photo: IC

Photo: IC

In comparison with many other people who live and work in Beijing, Li Chao (pseudonym) seems to be a lucky man. Li holds a postgraduate degree in environmental engineering from a prestigious university in the UK and has his ideal job with an NGO, with a monthly income of 8,000 yuan ($1,312). Life has been good.

But like many other migrant workers, Li does not feel emotionally attached to the city because of his identity as a person from Liaoning Province. Upon his return from the UK in 2012, Li has been enquiring into ways to get hukou, or household registration in Beijing, which is regarded as a golden key to settling down.

The true happiness Li had been pursuing finally came to him recently — and it came with a price: Li paid 100,000 yuan to an agency which illegally bought him Beijing hukou from an engineering design company.

No free pass

In mid-October, Beijing police cracked down on a business conducted by an outfit called JJL Overseas Education Consulting & Service. Eight people from the company were detained for trading official documents from a State organ, which is against the Criminal Law.

"I am really excited and relieved to still have my hukou despite the crackdown. And the money spent was totally worth it," Li said. The new Beijing local also outlined the advantages he can now enjoy. He is permitted to participate in the license-plate lottery for cars and can purchase economically-affordable houses and when he retires he can enjoy better social welfare and education.

Li isn't alone in his desire for Beijing hukou. People reached by the Global Times admitted that they would do their utmost to secure a place in the city. According to the advice on the municipal government website, there are several ways to become a Beijing resident legally. People can start a business and pay taxes of over 3 million yuan over the course of three years, or they can marry a Beijing local.

As for the large number of college graduates, they rely on the hukou quotas assigned to a few private companies and many State-owned enterprises. The other way to acquire one is to pass the civil servant exam and be recruited into the government system.

"The problem is that there is hardly any opportunity for us to pass those exams. The competition is so fierce and those without any connections have to stop dreaming," Zhang Bin (pseudonym) told the Global Times. The fourth-year law student in Beijing has been dealing with hukou agents since 2011 and he never stops searching for a reliable agent with a reasonable price tag.

Beijing has tightened its management on hukou quotas. Around 229,000 students will graduate from universities in Beijing this year and 145,000 of them are students from other provinces. But only 10,000 hukou places will be available, the Workers' Daily reported.

Those with a bachelor's degree are unable to apply for hukou if they are older than 24 years old. The age limit for postgraduates is 27, and 35 for those with doctorates.

Shady market

The fierce demand for Beijing hukou has fueled an underground trade for the prized document.

In one recently uncovered case, a Beijing hukou was sold at the price of 720,000 yuan, reported the Beijing News. Several agents reached by a Global Times reporter posing as a buyer offered their services at about 150,000 yuan for those holding an overseas postgraduate degree and about 400,000 yuan for those with domestic degrees.

They said fewer companies are being granted quotas and applicants had to fulfill the requirements of the company's quotas, with looser requirements applied to those with foreign degrees. One agent, surnamed Guo, boasted that he has been in this business for several years and he had acquired Beijing hukou for himself.

However, Zhang warned that despite all the promises, not all agencies are capable of providing hukou and many are simply groping for profits in this time of trouble. "Usually, real agents need to check your ID cards and academic records before any face-to-face inquiries."

Another agent, with the online nickname Sofia, said that a fake labor contact will be signed and at least three months social insurance must be paid to create a false impression that the quota is actually given to an employee with the enterprise. The agent also said that customers can work at the company, but more money would be needed. She did not specify the specific amount.

Changes on the horizon?

Hukou reform is a controversial topic in China, particularly as the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party is expected to tackle the issue in November.

Wang Zhenyu, a researcher at the China University of Political Science and Law, said that the current household registration system left people few fair ways to get hukou so if the system remains unchanged, the ilegal trade will continue.

In recent controversial statements, Wen Guowei, a professor with Tsinghua University, suggested that migrant workers should pass a series of exams to get a Beijing hukou. He said they should be tested to determined their knowledge of basic laws as well as their "cultural level" of education.

 He also said that Beijing could set up a work permit system to assess the competency of migrant workers, the Beijing Evening News reported.     

Zhong Jun, an expert with the Economy and Social Construction Research Center under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that the pursuit of a Beijing hukou also reflects the unbalanced development of different regions and the uneven allocation of resources. Moreover, he said any reform to the hukou system should focus on equal distribution of resources.

 "In a market economy, there should be a free flow of population in order to optimize the allocation of human and industrial resources," Wang said.

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