Hukou system for college graduates

By Zhang Hao (张昊) on 19 May 2014

In China, each person has a household registration, also known as hukou (户口) in either a rural area or an urban area, and cannot change it without the permission of the receiving jurisdiction. David Dollar, World Bank Country, explains “Hukou system kept rural-urban migration below what it otherwise would have been, and contributed to the development of one of the largest rural-urban income divides in the world.” In short, it is much like a green card or “internal passport” that provides its bearer access to public service, such as health care, education, etc. But, as stated by China Labour Bulletin, the downside of this system is that “Outside their home province, migrant workers face numerous institutional hurdles compared to local residents, such as tougher standards for entrance into universities, requirements for residential permits, limited access to health and social services, including schools for their children and, in some cases, restrictions on purchase of homes and vehicles.”

To achieve the “Chinese dream”, some researchers point that it is important to give all migrants an urban hukou within the next 15 years. We believe the relaxation of the hukou system should benefit for all, but also considering it can only be done with several steps and granting a hukou to college graduates as a major step. In western world, many countries and businesses foresee the potential of intellectuals as catalyst for local economic boom, and advocate relevant policies to attract college graduates, regardless of their origin. As President Obama emphasized this in his State of Union address:

Let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this nation.

Fairly speaking, China’s policy makers already see the importance of enhancing the mobility of highly educated people, and are taking some actions as offering land or taxes preferential policy. However, in big cities, the hukou system still repulses graduates who come from other localities. Kam Wing Chan, professor of geography at University of Washington, former consultant of urbanization and urban migration projects for the United Nations and the World Bank, writes:

Each year, the numbers of migrant graduates who gain a local hukou in large cities like Shanghai and Beijing is very small, ranging from a few hundred to perhaps one or two thousand out of hundreds of thousands of college-educated migrants in each city.

As mentioned before, it is not convenient for graduates transferring their hukous among Chinese cities, especially when considering the ever-growing trend of frequent migration for work of young people. Today China’s higher education system provides services including assisting students transferring their hukou during graduation period. However, if a student does not obtain a job offer when he graduates, his/her hukou will be moved to local College Graduates Employment Guidance Center (高校毕业生就业指导中心) automatically. Only after he/she gets a job, his/her hukou can be transferred to the workplace. If a student intends to go abroad and move the hukou back to his/her hometown, there will be a complicated process to go through. Some local authorities ask college graduates to prove their “unmarried” status as a prerequisite to move their hukou back under the reason of “Children join their parents” (外地子女投靠父母), which requires students to go back to the cities where they studied for the proof of their marital status. It is an expensive and time-consuming process since a large part of students move to other cities far away after graduation. The regulation also changes numerous students who left home for study to a “floating population” (外来人口) and deprives them of their full rights to access public services before they successfully move their hukou back.

Again, the foreseeable solution for this issue could be the relaxation of the hukou system for college graduates, especially gradually abolishing the requirement for their “unmarried” status. It may also be helpful to build an on-line database about personal residential information for further verification instead of demanding students to commute among different cities in person for the hukou-transferring paperwork.


  1. Hukou system. Wikipedia
  2. Dollar, David. “Poverty, inequality and social disparities during China’s economic reform” The World Bank. June 6, 2007.
  3. Employment discrimination in China. China Labour Bulletin.
  4. Chan, Kam Wing. “A road map for reforming China’s hukou system”. October 22, 2013.
  5. “新政发力促进优秀人才来无锡就业创业”. 中国江苏网. April 29, 2014.
  6. 《中华人民共和国户口登记条例》 (Regulations on Household Registration of the People’s Republic of China)
Zhang Hao (张昊)

Hao is a research engineer in urbanism.