Let China’s Workers Roam Free

The migrant “clean-out” could freeze labor mobility.

Photographer: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images

Over the past few weeks, people here in Beijing have been riveted by the so-called migrant “clean-out” — the government's attempt to evict tens of thousands of migrant workers from their homes in the poorer parts of the city. What's not being discussed, however, is how the crackdown could threaten one of the government's other main priorities: managing debt.

QuickTake China's Debt Bomb

In China, mobility is legally restricted according to a household registration system, called the hukou. Chinese citizens receive an urban or rural hukou which officially identifies them as residents of a specific area and which allows them to live and work only in that area. Few if any of the migrant workers affected by the current sweep possess a Beijing hukou.