China’s unique internal dynamics are shaped by interior migration regulation, fast-paced economic transformations, and population management dilemmas. Coupled with the drive for political and cultural homogeneity, these challenges have impacted Chinese people and how mobile they can be within the borders of the state. Consequently, as China has become a migration destination for different categories of migrants, the space that foreign migrants can inhabit is increasingly becoming an issue of debate. Since China’s economy “opened up” in the 1980s, different categories of foreign migrants have been drawn to China. As a result, China’s immigration law and policy approach has been evolving to meet the new challenges of migration at the national level and to address the internal, local-level realities.
With these factors in view, this study intends to unpack China’s distinctive and evolving approach to undocumented status looking at three levels of analysis: immigration law and policy developments, as well as the context shaping these developments, individual accounts of foreign migrants of how they experience their status in China in their everyday lives, and local-level understandings and perspectives on migrant status. Looking at these three levels, this project examines China’s approach towards migrant status, the impact on the lived experiences of foreign migrants, and its significance. The research findings will also be connected to the larger discussions on undocumented migrant status and alternative approaches to migration in the Global South.