What actually happens when you migrate Google Workspace email to another user

On occasion, you may want to migrate someone’s Google Workspace account to another user – for example, if you have a team member leave and you want to preserve their email.

Google Workspace has a Data Migration service that lets you migrate the data from account to account – although they specifically say that you shouldn’t use it in the above scenario:

If users leave your organization but you want to continue retaining or holding their data with Google Vault, we recommend you assign the users Archived User licenses rather than import their data using the data migration service. For details, go to Preserve data for users who leave your organization.

Data Migration FAQ – “Can I migrate the email data of users leaving my organization to another account?”

Basically, they recommend taking advantage of Archived Users, which is a separate user status that is only available on Business Plus plans or above, and costs AUD$5.20 per user. Might make sense if you’re already on Business Plus, but it’s an expensive change otherwise.

In any case, the migration seems to work fine; it’s relatively easy to use, although with a couple of quick caveats:

  • Aside from the FAQ noting that no labels are applied to migrated email, the docs don’t make it clear what happens when you do the migration – where does the mail end up?
    • The short answer is the mail is just all munged in together with your existing mail.
    • However, all the email will be imported in an Archived state. It preserves read/unread and other labels, but it won’t show up in your inbox.
    • As far as I can tell, the mail is not modified in any way – no extra headers are added or anything, so there’s no obvious way to identify newly imported mail.
    • SO BEWARE: if you import someone else’s mailbox into your own as a test, and then decide you don’t want it there, you’ll be dumpster-diving to clear it all out later. I would recommend first moving all the email in the source account into its own top-level folder, so it gets imported in neatly (though I’m not sure how to do that easily).
  • If you pick the default migration source as a Google Workspace account and you have 2FA set up on the source account, it will fail and tell you to select it as a Gmail account. You’ll then need to follow an OAuth-esque flow to authorise access to the account, pretty much as you’d expect. Not really a problem, just a little annoying when you go through the Workspace flow because it seems to be the obvious way to go, only to have to start again.

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