New law cannot reduce rural-urban migration

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  Migrant workers pull carts as they make their way to a construction site in Hanoi. A proposed new law seeks to restrict migration to the Vietnamese capital. Photo: AFP

The Capital Bill, which seeks to impose greater restrictions on the migration of rural people to Hanoi, is not likely to staunch the inflow and is likely to cause more difficulties for migrants, Nguyen Quang, manager of the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-HABITAT) in Vietnam, tells Vietweek.

Vietweek: What is your opinion about the draft Capital Law?

Nguyen Quang: The law aims to tighten management of the migration of people from rural regions to Hanoi. One of the measures is family registration, which is now applied in some countries like Vietnam, China, and North Korea. Those with family registration in the city can access social services better than others. In the subsidy period (from 1976 to 1986), only holders of city family registration had rice books (which allowed them to buy rice from state-owned shops), so the family registration could strictly manage immigrants from rural areas to the city. Residential distribution was decided by administrative regulations of the authority, not by market mechanisms.

Migration now, which happens under the market mechanism, much depends on the supply and demand of the labor market. People are attracted to localities with bigger labor demand and higher wages.

Migrants also help accelerate the urbanization process. In other countries, migrants to urban areas often account for one-third or half of the population increase. This urbanization is indispensable.

In Vietnam, migration has naturally happened under the market mechanism. Migrants account for one-third of the population increase in urban areas, which is estimated at 800,000-900,000 people each year. Urbanization accompanies industrialization and economic development.

Rural people migrate to cities for several reasons the promise of better living conditions, better health and education services, a shortage of arable land, lower incomes and natural disasters in their native places.

Migrants contribute to cities' development as they help increase services and reduce labor costs. The migration stops only when the income of rural laborers increase and is equal to that of urban ones. However, if the process is not managed well, it will show shortcomings. It will put pressure on infrastructure and the provision of services.

Can the draft law help control migration to the capital city?

Nguyen Quang, manager of the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-HABITAT) in Vietnam
It is impossible. The law could cause more difficulties to the rural migrants in Hanoi, but it cannot prevent people from coming in. (The new law would allow a family to register in the capital city only after residing there for three consecutive years, compared to the current one year). If migrants cannot register their families in the city, they would have to pay more for social services like healthcare, education and water. Meanwhile, we must remember that most migrants are poor people. Thus, the law may unintentionally fail to support the urban poor. Authorities are planning to use administrative measures to manage migration as they are not able to think of other effective measures to do it.

What would be effective measures to deal with the issue?

I think people living in urban areas should pay higher land and housing taxes, and these taxes should be used to invest in infrastructure to reduce pressure caused by migration. Taxes collected from businesses in urban areas should also be invested in developing health and education services.

If the state does this, it will not have to suffer migration pressure on infrastructure. Thus, we have to change the way we manage the issue. We should facilitate society's participation in urban management, and housing prices should be reduced so that more people can own or rent houses, which helps deal with the issue of slums built by poor migrants.

The state should facilitate better access for migrants to social services. It can set up community development funds to improve the infrastructure. Funds can be contributed by local residents and/or international organizations.

The important thing is that current shortcomings in migration are mainly due to poor management, not due to big migration.

How do other countries deal with migration? What can Vietnam learn from them?

Different countries have different measures to deal with the issue. There are countries that use administrative measures to limit it. However, both administrative and non-administrative measures have not been able to prevent it.


Some countries experience large-scale migration, but they have regulations that facilitate the society's participation in urban area development and management, so they are able to deal with social services and reduce pressures on the state budget. Some other countries have housing upgrading funds contributed by local residents, which can help improve living conditions for migrants.

In fact, there is no single measure that can deal with all issues related to migration. For example, some countries have a better social welfare system, and living conditions of migrants could be better in these countries, but they are also facing pressure on their state budgets. Nowadays, both developing and developed countries are imposing barriers on migration to urban areas.

How will limiting migration affect Hanoi's socioeconomic development?

When migration is limited, labor costs in the city will be higher. Migrants, including many talented students and workers, will not be able to contribute to the city's development. Administrative measures will reduce the development of the market in the city. We should focus more on facilitating rural development, and create better linkages between urban and rural areas to create the flow of labor, science and technology as well as capital to all areas for national development. Now, the linkages are limited.

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