New research on internal migration COVID-19 impacts

A new research paper from the Federal Government’s Centre for Population shows Australia is experiencing unprecedented interstate migration trends as a result of the pandemic.

Titled ‘Anticipating the impact of COVID-19 on internal migration’, the research from experts at the University of Queensland indicates a downturn in the number of people moving interstate.

The Centre for Population has forecast that the number of people moving interstate is expected to fall by 12 per cent in 2020-21, the lowest rate on record.

The number of people moving around the country is expected to recover as the effects of COVID-19 lessen. From 2023-24, the level of interstate migration is expected to return to the 20-year average.

With net overseas migration effectively on hold, internal migration will be the main driver of changes to Australia’s population distribution.

The research also shows an extraordinary reversal in migration patterns is expected in Melbourne and Victoria as a result of the extended lockdown.

Victoria is now expected to see more people leaving the state relative to other jurisdictions despite usually seeing people move in.

For the first time in over a decade, there is now evidence that people are leaving Victoria, and Melbourne in particular. . Recent ABS regional migration data released in November showed Victoria had a net loss of people to other states in the June quarter for the first time since June 2008, and Melbourne losing an astounding 11,000 people in the year to date, ten times as many people who left in the previous year.

The findings come off the back of the inaugural Population Statement, released last month, which found people are in fact less likely to make an internal move during times of economic uncertainty, matching what we have seen in previous downturns.

The modelling shows a 1 per cent decline in GDP per capita leads to a 1.5 per cent drop in the rate of interstate migration.

The modelling also shows that migration between capital cities and regions responds to changes in economic conditions, particularly the relative unemployment rate and relative house prices.

For example, the research shows if the unemployment rate rises in capital cities when compared with regional areas, migration to the regions increases. It also shows if house prices increase in regional areas compared to capital cities, migration to the regions will fall.

The Centre for Population forecasts almost all states are likely to see a short-term shift of internal migration patterns away from capital cities toward regional areas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early data released by the ABS shows capital cities had a net loss of 10,500 people to regional areas in the quarter to June 2020, the largest net quarterly move to the regions on record. This is more than double the average observed over the last 10 years.

However, the projections show that as the economy recovers, capital cities will recover to higher growth rates than regional areas, with regional internal migration assumed to return to the 10-year average for each capital city and regional area in each state.

The research paper is available at The Centre’s Population Statement is available at and includes more detail on state, territory (page 60) and regional (page 71) population forecasts.

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