Summary Obstacles to internal migration in China contribute to inefficiency, inequality, and land degradation. Academic and policy debate has primarily focused on discrimination against rural migrants on arrival in urban areas. Meanwhile, barriers to migration out of rural areas have received less attention. This paper examines the role of incomplete rural property rights in the migration decisions of rural households. We examine the relationship between tenure insecurity and restrictions on land rentals, and participation in outside labor markets. The results indicate that tenure insecurity reduces migration. This relationship is particularly pronounced on forest land, which has implications for the conservation of recently replanted forest areas.