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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Phantom Services: Deflecting Migrant Workers in China

  • Author(s): Chan, Alexia T
  • O'Brien, Kevin J
  • et al.

As China urbanizes, more migrants need and expect public services. Many municipalities, however, resist and undermine elements of the central government’s urbanization strategy by deflecting demands for benefits instead of accepting or denying them outright. Urban authorities sometimes do so by establishing nearly impossible eligibility requirements or requiring paperwork that outsiders struggle to obtain. At times they also nudge migrants to seek healthcare or education elsewhere by enforcing dormant rules or by shutting down a locally available service provider. Limiting access to public services saves cities a vast amount of money and isolates and disempowers migrants. Phantom services are a consequence of the localization of the household registration system (hukou 户口) and a sign that new axes of inequality and gradations of second-class citizenship have emerged.

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