Abstract The relationship between migration and deforestation in the developing world continues to receive significant attention. However beyond direct population increase, the precise mechanisms that operate within the intersection of migrant/host land rights remain largely unexamined. Where migrants are provided with land and rights by the State and/or local communities, how such rights are perceived by the migrants is of primary importance in their interaction with land resources, and in aggregate it impacts the development opportunities and environmental repercussions of migration. The authors analyze the operative aspects of land rights reception (as opposed to provision) by migrant populations, and the relationship between this reception and deforestation. The article examines a case in Zambia to analyze how tenurial constructs, emerging from the way rights are perceived by migrants, lead to the continued clearing of areas much larger than needed for cultivation, even when the arrangement appears counter-productive in terms of land rights provision and labour allocation. While valuable policy efforts have focused on providing resource rights to migrants, how such rights are received and the relationship of this reception to resource management needs greater policy attention.