Local Citizenship Regimes in China: Migration, Inclusion, and Economic Development



Samantha Vortherms, Postdoctoral fellow, Stanford Shorenstein APARC, Assistant Professor of Political Science, U.C. Irvine

Date and Time

May 9, 2018 4:45 PM - 6:00 PM


Philippines Conference Room
Encina Hall, Third Floor, Central, C330
616 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford, CA 94305



What explains variation in access to citizenship rights in China? Why do some governments extend citizenship to migrants while others do not? This talk details the structural barriers to accessing citizenship rights in China through the household registration system, hukou, which treats domestic migrant workers as foreigners in their own country. Over the last twenty years, city governments erected local citizenship regimes, controlling who is allowed to become full citizens locally while keeping unwanted populations out. In this talk, Prof. Vortherms details the sub-national variation in these policies and explains the connection between economic growth and citizenship acquisition. When the local economy is exposed to foreign market forces, local governments are incentivized to open citizenship to high-skilled workers, who have greater marginal benefits for the local economy in the presence of foreign production. Protectionism leads to stricter policies for low-skilled and chain migrants, while lower local fiscal capacity can increase opportunities for buying citizenship through investment. This talk tests these hypotheses on an original database of local naturalization policies in 249 cities in China, and concludes with a discussion of the prospects and implications of recent reforms to the household registration system.

Samantha Vortherms is a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University's Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center and an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Irvine. Her research focuses on comparative political economy, development, social welfare, and survey research. Her current book project, Localized Citizenship in China, examines sub-national variation in access to citizenship rights in China. Prof. Vortherms research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Fulbright Program, and the Social Science Research Council. Before her time at Stanford, she received a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin—Madison and two Master’s degrees in International Relations and Public Policy at the University of Chicago.

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