The 1954 partition of Vietnam resulted in the exodus of over 820,000 refugees, the majority of them Catholics, from the northern part of the country. Most eventually settled with government assistance in the Central Highlands or on the outskirts of the capital city of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). During the same period, about 80,000 Viet-Minh troops and their dependents moved from the south to the north.
The Vietnam war caused severe disruption of living patterns in both the north and the south. In the north, intensive US bombing of major industrial cities led to a dispersal of the population from urban areas, while a government-sponsored program resulted in the resettlement of nearly 1 million Vietnamese from crowded areas in the Delta to less densely populated regions in upland areas of the country. In the south, migration was primarily from the countryside to the cities, as millions of peasants fled their villages to escape the effects of the war or to seek employment in the affluent cities of Saigon and Da Nang. At the end of the war in 1975, nearly one-half of the population lived in urban areas, many in refugee camps on the edges of the major cities.
After seizing control of the south in 1975, the Hanoi regime announced a new program that called for the resettlement of over 10 million Vietnamese into uncrowded areas of the country by the end of the century. Many were to be moved from refugee camps in the south to new economic zones established in the Central Highlands or along the Cambodian border. Although the zones were unpopular because of poor living conditions, between the end of the war and 1981, nearly 1.5 million Vietnamese were resettled into new areas. The overall aim was to disperse the entire population into several hundred "agro-industrial districts" that would provide the basis for development of an advanced Socialist economy. Since 1981 another 2.1 million have been resettled.
In addition to this migration within the country, since the war there has been a substantial outflow of Vietnamese fleeing to other countries. About 150,000 were evacuated from the south in the final weeks of the war, many of them eventually settling in the United States. There were 593,213 people of Vietnamese ancestry in the US in 1990. In 1978, a new exodus began after the government nationalized all private trade and manufacturing in the country. During 1978-87, an estimated 1 million Vietnamese fled by sea to other countries in Southeast Asia, or overland to China. Many later resettled in Australia, France, the United States, and other countries. From 1979 to 1984, 59,730 persons emigrated legally through the US Orderly Departure Program; this program was suspended by the Vietnamese government in 1986 but later resumed, with 57,000 emigrating to the United States in 1993 alone. In 1984, the US started a program that offered asylum to Vietnamese political prisoners and all Asian-American children. This program was restarted in September 1987. Between 1975 and 1984, about 554,000 persons, known as the "boat people," emigrated illegally. In 1992, Vietnam signed agreements with the United Kingdom providing for the forcible repatriation of almost all the 55,700 "boat people" remaining in Hong Kong. The major refugee community was in China, which was harboring 285,500 Vietnamese of Chinese ancestry at the end of 1992.
As of 1997, 3,000 Vietnamese remained in Hong Kong. By 1999, some 110,000 non-refugee boat people had returned to Vietnam. In 2000, the net migration rate was -0.5 migrants per 1,000 population. The government views the emigration level as too low, but the immigration level as satisfactory.