International migrants in China, who are still a small share of the total population, face many obstacles to integration under the slightly unfavourable policies. Despite these recent improvements, China ranks in Bottom 5 Countries out of the 52 MIPEX countries. China scores 32 on the 100-point MIPEX scale, while the average MIPEX country scored 50. Among MIPEX countries, the obstacles facing international migrants in China are greater than in Japan or Korea but are less than in India and Indonesia.
China’s approach to integration is categorised by MIPEX as ‘immigration without integration’ because Chinese policies refuse to recognise China as a country of immigration and integration. Although certain categories of international migrants are able to settle long-term in China, they are denied basic rights and equal opportunities to participate in society. In fact, access to basic rights and equal opportunities are weaker in China than in most MIPEX countries.
China’s approach to integration matters because state policies can influence whether or not integration works as a two-way process. The way that governments treat international migrants strongly influences how well immigrants and the public interact and think of each other. China’s current policies may encourage the public to think of international migrants as potential citizens, but also as their subordinates and as strangers.
Obstacles emerge for international migrants in different areas of life in China. Immigrants have half-way opportunities for labour market mobility, family reunification, permanent residence and access to nationality. Compared to the situation in the other 52 MIPEX countries, international migrants in China are confronted with the most restrictive political participation policies and some of the weakest policies on migrant education, health and anti-discrimination.
- Labour market mobility: Halfway favourable: Although foreign citizens can access higher education, scholarships and facilitated procedures to recognise their qualifications, they face restrictions on the labour market (as employed and self-employed workers) and benefit from very limited general and no targeted support.
- Family reunification: Halfway favourable: Only permanent residents can apply family reunification and their families enjoy fewer and less secure rights than elsewhere, including no right to an autonomous residence permit.
- Education: Unfavourable: Like other countries with small numbers of foreign pupils, China does relatively little to encourage them across the education system or support diversity at school, although measures have started to bring international migrants into the teacher workforce.
- Health: Slightly Unfavourable: Only legal immigrants have access to the Chinese health system and they benefit from little-to-no targeted information or support to meet their specific health questions and needs.
- Political participation: Critically Unfavourable: international migrants are fully denied the opportunity to participate in public life in China, as foreign citizens have no right to vote, support or consultation by policymakers.
- Permanent residence: Halfway favourable: Only a small group of international migrants like high-skilled workers are able to fulfil the economic requirements to become permanent residents and enjoy more secure and equal rights in key areas of life like social security and assistance.
- Access to nationality: Halfway favourable: For the few that can access permanent residece, the path to Chinese citizenship is shorter and entails less restrictive requirements than the average MIPEX country. However, China has not followed international reform trends to open up dual nationality for foreign citizens or birthright citizenship entitlements for their Chinese-born children.
- Anti-discrimination: Unfavourable: Foreign citizens who are victims of ethnic, racial, religious or nationality discrimination have little chance to access justice, as China lacks an overall antidiscrimination law and dedicated independent equality body.