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Rural Migrant Workers' Social Integration: Policy Implications and Options for Further Improvement


By Wang Hui, Research Team on "Study of Promoting Coordinated Development of Urban and Rural Areas, Accelerating the Process of Turning Rural Migrant Workers into Urban Residents", the DRC

Research Report No 33, 2011

I. Policy Implications for Rural Migrant Workers' Social Integration

The issue of social integration of rural migrant workers in China arises from the fact that since the end of the 1980s more and more rural migrant workers have entered cities for employment or business opportunities. Some scholars have made systematic researches by drawing on Western immigration theories and social policies and in light of the unique features of China's economic and social development and rural migrant workers. Their research findings indicate that social integration is a multi-dimensional complex concept. It refers to the cohesion of different individuals or groups with a group. In other words, it means the participation and recognition of individuals in a group and the mutual dependence between group members, or a process in which different individuals, groups and cultures cooperate with and adapt to each other. It includes integration in the economic, political, social, institutional, cultural and psychological aspects, and reflects social care for vulnerable social groups. The core contents can be summarized as follows:

Equal participation opportunity. Equal participation opportunity is the prerequisite and basis for social integration. The European Commission noted in a 2003 report that social integration should emphasize that the vulnerable social groups can have necessary opportunities and resources to fully participate in economic, social and cultural life and live a normal life, and should ensure that they have more decision-making opportunities to participate in social affairs and acquire basic rights.

Basic social welfare. Equal participation is not the goal of social integration. Only when vulnerable social groups enjoy the normal social welfare as other society members can they realize basic social integration. Amartya Sen pointed out that the basic features of social integration were common share of social experience, active participation, extensive equality for all, and basic social welfare for all. Social integration reflects a positive mode of human social welfare development, which requires not only the elimination of barriers or risks but also the investment and action to create integration environment.

Positive social relations. Positive social relations, which measure the relations of vulnerable social groups with people around them, have at least two implications: they equally receive community attention and care in social, political, economic and cultural life, and they have mutually trustworthy, admirable and respectable human relations with families, friends and community members.

Improved development ability. Amartya Sen holds that social integration requires social policies to improve ability, protect legitimate human rights and ensure that everybody has the opportunity and ability to get integrated. Jackson and Scott hold that the perspective of social integration requires that society has the obligation to ensure that every citizen is aware of their potentials and a true social integration should mean a higher equal status in material environment and development result.

Currently, the issue of rural migrant workers' social integration in China has the following particularities in addition to its generalities. One particularity is the complexity of those to be integrated. China has more than 200 million rural migrant workers, who are not only large in number but also widely different in regional distribution, age, ability, qualification, and interest pursuit. Social integration must consider even more economic, social, psychological and cultural factors. The second is the gross inequality in participation opportunity. At present, the social integration of rural migrant workers faces serious institutional barriers. Tangible inequity exists in household register, welfare, labor, employment, participation, and rights protection. The third is the differential supply of basic public services. Under China's existing special fiscal and tax systems, local governments are the direct providers of basic public services. But their supply capacities are limited by their own fiscal resources and also by the levels of transfer payments. Besides, there are institutional barriers and the low level of equalization. So, rural migrant workers in different regions and cities are entitled to drastically different basic public services and social welfare when they get integrated with cities. The fourth is the background of researches. The researches on the issue of rural migrant workers' social integration in China must be conducted against the big picture of economic and social transition and the change of the mode of economic development, and must take into full account the impacts of economic and social transition on industrial structure, labor-capital relations, employment structure, and the adjustment of interest relations between different social stratums.

In short, the social integration of rural migrant workers is a dynamic social process, in which institutional inequality must be eliminated and social capital must be formed and developed so that they can enjoy, as urban residents do, normal economic benefit, social and cultural life, equal public services and social welfare, right to extensive social and political participation, and hence effectively change their disadvantaged social position. In the course of rural migrant workers' social integration, eliminating unequal institutional arrangements is the prerequisite, realizing the equality in resource allocation, public services and social rights is the goal, and enhancing their adaptation to and recognition by cities through skill training, qualification education, social communication and human care is the key. In particular, rural migrant workers and their families must be organically integrated with social organizations around them so as to be "organized". Through mutual communication and learning within organizations, rural migrant workers and their families can boost their social adaptability, improve their social relations, promote their social capital transfer and development, and get themselves integrated with the mainstream of social networks.

II. Standards to Measure Rural Migrant Workers' Social Integration

The social integration of rural migrant workers is a progressive process, and its measuring standards are directly related to the institutional environment, their own interest pursuits, and the hierarchy of their needs. A survey on rural migrant workers' integration into urban community conducted in 2010 by the Department of Social Development Research of the Development Research Center of the State Council (DRC) indicates that 43 rural migrant workers and their stakeholders across the country hold that the top five indicators of integration into urban community are respectively to enjoy the equal medical care, education and other social welfare as urban residents do, have stable work, have their household register transferred to cities, have dormitories or other fixed residences, and have equal political and economic status and rights. Apparently, having equal social welfare, local urban household register, stable work and descent fixed residence, and equal political and economic rights are the main indicators and important standards to measure the social integration of rural migrant workers in the general sense.

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