More new migrants are leaving regional areas for major cities than they were 30 years ago, according to new study from The Australian National University (ANU).
The researchers say the findings are a clear indication Australia's migration policy aimed at attracting skilled migrants to regional areas is failing.
The findings show that in some regions more than 60 per cent of newly settled migrants from specific countries have moved on within five years.
The study, encompassing two research papers and analysing 35 years of data, also looked at the preferred destination for migrants from different countries.
Sydney is the city of choice for Chinese-born migrants, while migrants born in India gravitated towards Melbourne.
Perth is the preferred destination for migrants born in the United Kingdom, while New Zealanders prefer Brisbane.
Dr Bernard Baffour said the findings should inspire a "serious rethink of government policy".
"The data showed recent Government attempts to attract migrants to Australia's remote and regional areas are not working," said Dr Baffour of the ANU School of Demography.
"What we are seeing in the data is that the opposite is happening.
"Migrants enter on visas that are meant to settle them in areas outside capital city areas where labour and particular skills are needed, but they don't stay long.
"Some of these areas have huge population turnovers. Within a five-year period more than half of the population had moved.
"Rural and remote areas continue to face population decline while cities keep growing."
Dr Baffour said policymakers need to go back to the drawing board when it comes to attracting new migrants to regional and rural Australia.
"There are real challenges is migration policy and there is no quick solution," he said.
"You can't just send people out to these areas and expect everything to turn out well - you've got to think a bit harder.
"We need to improve the social, economic and educational opportunities in regional areas otherwise they will continue struggling to retain populations as they have for the past 35 years."
The research is published in two papers as part of the Australian Research Council funded Discovery Project 'The Demographic Consequences of Migration to, from and within Australia'.
Subsequent Migration of Immigrants Within Australia, 1981-2016 published in Population Research and Policy Review.
Estimating multiregional survivorship probabilities for sparse data: An application to immigrant populations in Australia published in Demographic Research.