A River of Re­turn

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text by Wang Shuya

Not long ago, the Na­tional Bureau of Statis­tics of China re­leased Re­port on the Mon­i­tor­ing Sur­vey

of Mi­grant Work­ers 2016 (here­inafter re­ferred to as Re­port), show­ing that in 2016, the to­tal num­ber of mi­grant work­ers in the coun­try reached 281.71 mil­lion, a year-onyear in­crease of 1.5 per­cent. No­tice­ably, over 80 per­cent of the in­cre­men­tal amount worked lo­cally, in­stead of in cities far from their home­towns. More and more mi­grant work­ers are find­ing jobs near their ori­gins. How is this hap­pen­ing?

Grow­ing Grav­ity

Guo Quan’an left his home­town in Ren­shou County, Sichuan Prov­ince al­most 20 years ago at age 17 to join the mas­sive pop­u­la­tion of mi­grant work­ers in Guang­dong Prov­ince, where he be­came an ex­pert in in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tion. Re­cently, he has be­come ea­ger to go back home to work.

He is re­al­is­tic: In re­cent years, his home­town has seen great progress and cre­ated more busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties. He is con­fi­dent he could land a job earn­ing at least 4,000 yuan a month. He would save the cost of trav­el­ing back and forth, have more time with his fam­ily and be able to take care of his farm­land. “It would be more eco­nom­i­cal,” he sus­pects.

Guo is only one of many who want to “flow back” to where they are from. Ac­cord­ing to the Re­port, in 2016, the pop­u­la­tion of lo­cal mi­grant work­ers hit 112 mil­lion and is ex­pected to grow higher. “More and more work­ing mi­grants are choos­ing to re­turn home to find jobs and start their own busi­nesses,” de­clares Pro­fes­sor Li Chang’an from the Fac­ulty of Pub­lic Administration un­der the Univer­sity of In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness and Eco­nom­ics. “It is an en­cour­ag­ing trend.”

As China con­tin­ues trans­form­ing and up­grad­ing its in­dus­trial struc­ture and ad­just­ing the lay­out of re­gional in­dus­tries, the cen­tral and western parts of the coun­try have seen in­creas­ing ca­pac­ity to em­ploy mi­grant work­ers. Over the last few years, due to ris­ing la­bor costs and rel­e­vant poli­cies, la­bor forces have grad­u­ally shifted from east­ern coastal ar­eas to the cen­tral and western re­gions, where new growth points are found in and around the reser­voir of la­bor forces. In 2016, for ex­am­ple, in Chongqing, once a ma­jor la­bor ex­porter, the num­ber of mi­grant work­ers who chose to work lo­cally was nearly 1 mil­lion more than the num­ber work­ing else­where, cre­at­ing a heavy counter-cur­rent.

Fur­ther­more, lo­cal eco­nomic devel­op­ment and var­i­ous sup­port­ive poli­cies have drawn more mi­grant work­ers back home for em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and to start busi­nesses. “In re­cent years, the cen­tral govern­ment has is­sued many fa­vor­able poli­cies for ru­ral ar­eas, cov­er­ing tax­a­tion and finance, among oth­ers,” re­it­er­ates Pro­fes­sor Li. “It has also ac­cel­er­ated lo­cal in­fras­truc­tural con­struc­tion and im­ple­mented the prac­tice of re­liev­ing peo­ple in poverty-stricken ar­eas by em­ploy­ing them in­stead of just hand­ing over grant money. The govern­ment in­vests in in­fras­truc­tural projects in which im­pov­er­ished farm­ers con­trib­ute to con­struc­tion to get paid, as well as launch­ing projects con­cern­ing poverty al­le­vi­a­tion, which have all cre­ated jobs for lo­cal farm­ers.”

“Lo­cal gov­ern­ments have made nu­mer­ous at­tempts at poverty re­lief by ad­just­ing mea­sures to lo­cal con­di­tions,” as­serts Li Yongzhuang, di­rec­tor of the Re­search Cen­ter for Liveli­hood Econ­omy un­der the Cen­tral Univer­sity of Finance and Eco­nom­ics. “The grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of lo­cal mi­grant work­ers ev­i­dences the strength of the lo­cal econ­omy, rep­re­sent­ing in­creas­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for en­tre­pre­neur­ial ac­tiv­i­ties and em­ploy­ment, and help­ing more peo­ple out of ba­sic agri­cul­tural la­bor.”

It’s also worth not­ing that the av­er­age age of mi­grant work­ers has been grow­ing, along with the en­tire pop­u­la­tion’s struc­tural changes. The group is bur­dened with the pres­sure of look­ing af­ter the older and younger gen­er­a­tions at the same time: They are ex­hausted with work­ing far away and re­con­sid­er­ing a re­turn to their roots. An­other fac­tor is that in re­cent years, the wealth gap be­tween in­land and coastal ar­eas has shrunk, as the av­er­age in­come of farm­ers has in­creased.

New Op­por­tu­ni­ties

The mass of 112 mil­lion peo­ple, more than the pop­u­la­tion of most coun­tries, shift­ing lo­cal­ity is no small mat­ter. What changes will the trend bring?

“This is a U-turn on the in­flux to­wards ur­ban ar­eas,” il­lus­trates Di­rec­tor Li. “Some of the group is flow­ing back nat­u­rally, which is pro­vid­ing a pre­cious strate­gic op­por­tu­nity for lo­cal eco­nomic progress.”

“They can serve as a dual en­gine,” Li adds. When they left home in the first place, they lived on their phys­i­cal strength. Now they re­turn with skills and ex­pe­ri­ence in busi­ness management—dreams and ideas for start-ups. Af­ter up­grad­ing tech­ni­cally, they will un­doubt­edly ac­cel­er­ate their home­towns’ eco­nomic devel­op­ment by work­ing for lo­cal en­ter­prises or es­tab­lish­ing busi­nesses of their own. Some of them might par­tic­i­pate in coun­try­side gov­er­nance. The eco­nomic progress of their home­towns will in turn con­vince more peo­ple to stay.

For quite a while, mi­grant work­ers have left much of their lives be­hind to earn a liv­ing else­where. As they re­turn to work in their home­towns, prob­lems re­lated to left-be­hind chil­dren and empty-nest el­derly peo­ple could be re­solved au­to­mat­i­cally.

How to Keep Them?

It is a big chal­lenge for lo­cal gov­ern­ments to keep the re­turn­ing la­bor, be­cause the in­creas­ing num­bers will test the ca­pac­ity of lo­cal in­fra­struc­ture and pub­lic ser­vices.

“The lo­cal gov­ern­ments have a lot on their plates,” notes Di­rec­tor Li Yongzhuang.

First, they can at­tract la­bor with busi­ness. Ef­forts should be made to lure ma­jor in­dus­tries via a se­ries of poli­cies and mea­sures to en­cour­age em­ploy­ment as well as start-ups. They can sup­port and ac­cel­er­ate ru­ral e-com­merce and lo­gis­tics.

Sec­ond, they can launch tar­geted cam­paigns for per­son­nel management and train­ing. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, mi­grant work­ers have room to grow cul­tur­ally and in­tel­lec­tu­ally. Lo­cal gov­ern­ments should es­tab­lish spe­cial in­sti­tu­tions or en­trust third-party in­sti­tu­tions to in­ten­sify train­ing of mi­grant work­ers of all ages to be­come em­ploy­ees in emerg­ing in­dus­tries and rare and scarce pro­fes­sions, and avoid be­ing washed out of the em­ploy­ment mar­ket due to in­dus­trial and tech­no­log­i­cal up­grad­ing.

Third, they can es­tab­lish in­fra­struc­ture such as movie theaters and li­braries to feed the de­mands of cul­tural life. The promo- tion of good habits and healthy life­styles can help mi­grant work­ers con­tinue to en­joy the ad­van­tages of big cities, even in their home­towns.

Fourth, they can pro­vide sys­temic, per­fected so­cial in­sur­ance. The re­turn­ing mi­grant work­ers have cre­ated a new type of lo­cal pro­duc­tiv­ity, and any fam­ily con­sid­er­a­tions that could de­lay the re­turn should be ad­dressed. Along with five kinds of so­cial in­sur­ance and a hous­ing fund, lo­cal gov­ern­ments should work out more meth­ods of pro­vid­ing aid and en­act­ing pref­er­en­tial poli­cies to tackle is­sues such as ed­u­ca­tion, health­care and se­nior care.

Work­ing on scaf­folds. The Re­port shows that be­tween 2011 and 2016, the growth rate of mi­grant work­ers who worked else­where con­tin­ued fall­ing, with their share in all kinds of mi­grant work­ers drop­ping down to 60.1 per­cent from 62.8 per­cent. VCG

May 22, 2017: A cou­ple, who once worked as mi­grant work­ers, take care of their sheep. They have re­turned to their home­town of Maoshan Vil­lage of Zhong­tun Town, Guta Dis­trict in Jinzhou City, Liaon­ing Prov­ince, to start a busi­ness rais­ing 1,500 sheep. IC

April 20, 2017, Jiangxi Prov­ince: Re­turn­ing mi­grant work­ers have found em­ploy­ment at a green lighting en­ter­prise in Jing'an In­dus­trial Park in Jing'an County. In re­cent years, the county has opened em­ploy­ment chan­nels for mi­grant work­ers, help­ing them...

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