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What does it take to get a Shenzhen hukou?

A Shenzhen household registration or hukou is the Holy Grail for migrants to China’s most dynamic city. It entitles its bearer to a wide range of social welfare and medical benefits, as well as free schooling for their children, but currently only 2.1 million people in this city of more than 14 million (less than 15 percent) have a Shenzhen hukou.

Hukous are handed out by the municipal government only to those deemed worthy of the honor, and in strict accordance with the city’s population management policies and social and economic development plans. Essentially, only three groups of people qualify; university graduates and those with high levels of technical skills, investors who have paid significant amounts of tax into the municipal coffers over at least a three year period, and those transferred to Shenzhen on government assignment.

The regulations governing who is and who is not eligible for a Shenzhen hukou, issued on 1 August 2005, have now been translated in full here by CLB, and show just how complicated and time consuming the process of getting a Shenzhen hukou can be. For the vast majority of ordinary workers in the city, a Shenzhen hukou is simply not an option.

Most migrants will have to be content with the city’s new residence card (juzhuzheng居住证) introduced this year, which the municipal government claims gives migrants the same rights as local residents but clearly does not – see CLB’s analysis; Shenzhen’s residence card offers little new for migrant workers. Despite great efforts on the part of the Shenzhen government to improve the lot of migrants in city, they are still second class citizens, and will remain so for as long as the antiquated and anachronistic hukou system remains in place.