In 2006 it was estimated that China was experiencing a –0.39 per 1,000 population net migration rate. Of major concern in China is its growing “floating population” (liudong renkou), a large number of people moving from the countryside to the city, from developed economic areas to underdeveloped areas, and from the central and western regions to the eastern coastal region, as a result of fast-paced reform-era economic development and modern agricultural practices that have reduced the need for a large agricultural labor force. Although residency requirements have been relaxed to a degree, the floating population is not officially permitted to reside permanently in the receiving towns and cities.
As early as 1994, it was estimated that China had a surplus of approximately 200 million agricultural workers, and the number was expected to increase to 300 million in the early twenty-first century and to expand even further into the long-term future. It was reported in 2005 that the floating population had increased from 70 million in 1993 to 140 million in 2003, thus exceeding 10 percent of the national population and accounting for 30 percent of all rural laborers. According to the 2000 national census, population flow inside a province accounted for 65 percent of the total while that crossing provincial boundaries accounted for 35 percent. Young and middle-aged people account for the vast majority of this floating population; those between 15 and 35 years of age account for more than 70 percent.
Other migration issues include the more than 2,000 Tibetans who cross into Nepal annually, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The government tries to prevent this out-migration from occurring and has pressured Nepalese authorities to repatriate illegal border-crossing Tibetans. Another activity viewed as illegal is the influx of North Koreans into northeastern China. Some 1,850 North Koreans fled their country in 2004, but China views them as illegal economic migrants rather than refugees and sends many of them back. Some of those who succeed in reaching sanctuary in foreign diplomatic compounds or international schools have been allowed to depart for South Korea.