COVID-19 and Migration Systems in Transition

Crowd at a train station time lapse


This project is funded by the World Universities Network, under their ‘Addressing research needs as part of the COVID-19 Pandemic’, as part of the  ‘Understanding Cultures’ Global Challenge.


The impact of coronavirus on global mobility and migration flows is unprecedented. Countries across the globe have implemented coronavirus related restrictions and border shutdowns, and migration within countries, for work reasons, have also been curtailed.
In this light, the specific effects of COVID-19 on migration need much closer attention. To address it, this project will examine how existing migration policy and regulation in countries is being affected by COVID-19 and explore the effects on migrant workers in three countries: China, the UK and Australia. All three countries have existing regulatory systems in place towards migration, and importantly, all of these were in transition prior to the COVID-19 crisis.
In Australia, temporary migrant worker schemes, established by government have grown, creating concerns over the creation of precariat labour force deprived of citizenship rights. In the UK, EU freedom of movement rules are still in place at least until the end of 2020, but the post-Brexit regulation of migration looks set to involve significant change. In China, the long-established hukou system of internal migration has been loosened over recent years especially for Tier 3 and Tier 2 cities allowing greater social inclusion of internal migrants.

Project overview

The project will develop a network of experts across three countries, based at the Universities of Leeds, University of Western Australia and Renmin University Beijing. The project will explore how migrations systems in transition evolve as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

The project team will engage with main stakeholders that shape the migration process in the current context: employers’ representatives, think tanks, migrant advisory groups, policymakers, practitioners and migrant workers themselves.

The project will analyse secondary data and gather new data through interviews with some stakeholders in each country. The project will develop briefing papers, blogs, a final report, along with a dissemination event in August 2021.

Publications and outputs

Project website