Expatriates are people who left their country of citizenship voluntarily for personal reasons (or children of such people). This means that, while they may return, they are currently abroad. Whatever new laws are voted in in their home country mostly do not affect them in any way, with the exception of maybe some short visits. Yet when they are able to vote, their voice counts as much as the voice of someone actually living in the country.

What is the justification for an expatriate having democratic rights in their home country even after leaving it?

  • 3
    I think this is going to be mostly opinion. My opinion: most laws don't have a direct, individual effect on us. So that doesn't seem like a good argument to not let expats vote.
    – user1530
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 21:20
  • 2
    "who is a nation?" Is quite possibly better placed in philosophy. I understand some nations do or have disenfranchised or revoked citizenship of expatriates.
    – user9389
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 22:02
  • 2
    @notstoreboughtdirt I did not ask "who is a nation?" nor is my question any philosophic.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 22:07
  • 4
    @DJohnM resident aliens are taxed and cannot vote; people may lose their voting rights and yet that does not exclude them from paying tax. Even tourists pay taxes like the sales tax! The "no taxation without representation" was just a propaganda lemma. And in many countries expatriates do not pay taxes
    – SJuan76
    Commented Apr 22, 2017 at 0:21
  • 5
    You might not realise it but you did kind of ask “what is a nation”. I know no countries which systematically allows voting based strictly on residence. Most places reserve that to citizens. So people can vote because they are deemed (under some rather arbitrary rules) to belong or be bound to the country, not merely because they are going to be personally impacted. And I am not aware of any overarching attempt to “justify” that, you would have to look at a specific time and place to find arguments one way or the other.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Apr 22, 2017 at 7:31

6 Answers 6


Legal framework in the US

The right of expatriates to vote was established by the Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act (OVCRA) (1976).

The statutes enacted by OVCRA were later consolidated with some other voting statutes by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) (1986). The relevant parts are codified today at 52 U.S.C. s. 20301-20311.

The subsections most relevant to your question are 52 U.S.C. s. 20302(a)(1):

Each State shall permit absent uniformed services voters and overseas voters to use absentee registration procedures and to vote by absentee ballot in general, special, primary, and runoff elections for Federal office.

and the definition of "overseas voter" at 52 U.S.C. s. 20310(5)(B):

a person who resides outside the United States and is qualified to vote in the last place in which the person was domiciled before leaving the United States.

This requirement for states to permit expatriates to vote does not extend to citizens that have never resided in the US. Regardless, some states offer that privilege anyway, dependent on other conditions that vary from state to state.

Justifications given in the House of Representatives

Some motivations for the original OVCRA were given during congressional floor debate on December 10, 1975. (121 Cong. Rec. 39,731-39,737)

Representative Hays:

We recognize the principle that the right to vote for national officers is an inherent right and privilege of national citizenship, and that Congress retains the power to protect this right and privilege under both the necessary and proper clause and the 14th amendment. The Committee on House Administration concluded that a U.S. citizen residing outside the United States can remain a citizen of his last State of residence and domicile for purposes of voting in Federal elections under this bill, as long as he has not become a citizen of another State and has not otherwise relinquished his citizenship in such prior State.

Representative Gude:

The legislation we propose today seeks to insure not only the right to vote in Federal elections, but also the right to international travel and settlement.

Representative Frenzel:

These overseas citizens of the United States are scattered all over the globe. About one-quarter of them live in Canada; about one-quarter of them live in Western Europe; about 9 percent are In Mexico; and the rest are in more than 100 other foreign countries. They are American citizens. They pay U.S. taxes. They deserve the franchise.

Representative Hays:

I do not think we are going to find anybody voting under this law except people who are genuinely interested in the United States enough to go through the red tape to get the absentee ballot to vote.

Representative Rhodes:

I agree with the gentleman from Ohio that most of the people who would desire to vote would certainly be people who are still interested in the United States, who consider themselves to be citizens and who would vote if they were given the opportunity to do so in their own States.

Representative Railsback:

The right to vote is one of the most basic rights of American citizenship, and I strongly believe Congress has the power to protect this right under the necessary and proper clause and the 14th amendment.

The right of international travel has long been recognized as "an important aspect of the citizen's liberty" Kent v. Dulles, 357 U.S. 116, 127 (1958), and has been reaffirmed in 1964 in Aptheker v. Secretary of State, 379 U.S. 500, 505. And the right is not just limited to those who are always on the move.

Representative Thompson:

By this act, we will simply insure the same rights to private citizens residing overseas, many of whom pay state taxes and have an active interest in the conduct of their Government.


Allowing expatriates to vote aims to simultaneously protect the right to vote and the right to international travel.

The assumption is that those that go through the trouble to vote from overseas are genuinely interested in the US.

"They are American citizens. They pay U.S. taxes. They deserve the franchise."


In short: When you argue that non-citizens should not be allowed to vote, despite living in your country and being affected by its laws, you kind of have to allow citizens to vote, despite not living in your country.

Thus, citizenship gives voting rights.

If you restrict voting rights to citizens that live inside the country, you could create a case for giving everybody who lives in your country and pays taxes to have a right to vote.

  • 2
    The logic behind this is that everybody should be allowed to vote in exactly one country. And there are two logical rules to achieve this: Either all citizens can vote, or all residents can vote.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 23:02
  • @gnasher729 it's a lot easier to be a citizen of more than one country than a resident of more than one country.
    – phoog
    Commented Apr 24, 2022 at 21:29

While many laws of the expat's home country may not affect them, some laws do affect them. For example America requires Americans overseas to pay taxes.

Another reason why expats are affected by their home government is the draft, depending on the country an expat may be subject to being drafted.

That brings us to perhaps the most important way the expat is affected: foreign policy. If you live in country X and your home country's relations with country X turn sour, you may find yourself being kicked out and forced to return home. Or worse, if your country goes to war with country X you may find yourself imprisoned for the duration or even killed.

And then there is trade. Many expats perform work that is related to trade between their home country and the country they are visiting, so they have an interest in the trade policies of their home country.


This is a broad question as expatriates life patterns (how long they stay abroad, reasons to go aboard, how much money they send home etc.) can be very different around the Globe.

One justification can be having the citizenship which involves rights and obligations. One such right is the right to vote. Of course, some countries decided to deny such right to diaspora (e.g. Ireland).

As I live in an Eastern European country greatly affected by emigration (Romania, which has more than 3.4M emigrants out of less then 20M citizens), mostly due to economical reasons, I can provide some justification from this angle:

1) Being affected - some members of diaspora are affected by what happens in their native country. That's because many of them hope for a better context and come back. In fact, I know several people within Romanian diaspora who knows much more details about native political events than many of my colleagues at work

2) Contribution - many members of diaspora send great amounts of money to their relatives in the native country. This happens because not all family was able to relocate and most of the remaining family members live in areas with high unemployment rates. So, they inject some money into the economy and they deserve to have some rights.

3) Political values towards liberal democracy - this is clearly debatable, but in all elections from the past years, diaspora voted for candidates with pro-Western views. E.g. About 90% diaspora votes were in favor of current President in the second round of 2014 presidential elections (a German ethnic known for its pro-EU and anti-corruption views).

4) Potentially benefit from plurality of opinions - this is just a guess, but I think that diaspora may have a contribution towards political pluralism. Living in another country may open new ways of seeing things (e.g. some Romanians understood the values of liberal democracy and vote and advice relatives to vote against demagogues, extremists and corrupt politicians). Of course, this works only when the political offer is diverse enough.

I think most of above reasons apply regardless of the years spent abroad.

  • Point 3 might be specific to Romania. The recent Turkish constitutional referendum, for example, was generally condemned by EU governments, yet it got a higher approval rate form Turks living in the EU than from Turks living in Turkey.
    – Philipp
    Commented Apr 23, 2017 at 1:20
  • @Philipp - yes, that's true, but it might apply for regular elections. Turkey's referendum seems very different from the usual elections, as explained by this answer. Diaspora received very little attention during elections. Also they might be a difference due to historical and cultural background.
    – Alexei
    Commented Apr 23, 2017 at 5:18
  • @Philipp Actually, it's another example of the same, only in the opposite direction. Similar things could be said about French expats. One way or the other, there is one side of the political spectrum with a clear interest in having expatriates vote. [Incidentally, would you happen to know where to find detailed result of the recent Turkish referendum by country? I only heard about Germany and the Netherlands, not the whole EU.]
    – Relaxed
    Commented Apr 23, 2017 at 6:54
  • @Relaxed - you can find the results on Wikipedia
    – Alexei
    Commented Apr 23, 2017 at 6:59

There are several reasons why a country would allow overseas citizens to vote:

  1. Constitutional requirement: Some countries are required by their constitution to extend voting rights to all citizens. This means all citizens are legally protected on the voter roll regardless whether they reside overseas or not.

  2. Human rights concern: If you subscribe to the idea that every citizen in a liberal democracy should have a say in how their country is run, then striking them off the voter roll creates a whole set of other problems. For instance, how long does a person have to reside overseas in order to be considered ineligible to vote? Does that mean residing overseas means losing citizenship and becoming stateless? This problem is mainly philosophical but some countries may find it so problematic that they just won't touch it in the first place.

  3. Significant voters are overseas: Some countries have a significant population residing overseas, such as former Soviet countries where many citizens work overseas for economic reasons. If you strike all the overseas workers off the voter roll, you won't have much of a democracy to speak of. Some might even argue it's anti-democratic because these workers are providing economic support for families back home, meaning they are actively contributing to their home country.

  4. National confidence: Some countries embrace the idea of having voters who reside overseas because they feel confident that their own citizens will remain loyal to their home country. These are usually economically prosperous places like the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc. They understand that citizens who live overseas are not a threat to the nation, if anything they might bring back valuable knowledge and resources to their home country one day, so you want to keep them happy and engaged in body politics.


Expatriates are people who left their country of citizenship voluntarily for personal reasons (or children of such people).

Voluntarily is not necessarily the case - many people leave their country out of necessity, e.g., for economical or political reasons, and would not mind going back. Moreover, refugees are also expatriates.

This means that, while they may return, they are currently abroad. Whatever new laws are voted in in their home country mostly do not affect them in any way, with the exception of maybe some short visits.

Expatriates, especially when they do not have a second citizenship, are still subject to the laws of their country and affected by its policies. One example is the Americans living abroad but still required to pay the federal tax. Another example is the Russian students, who had to return home due to the closure of the university exchange programs in the last couple of months.

Another side of it is that the representative of the home country (usually the embassy) takes care of the expatriates, in case they are mistreated by their country of residence, or when they need to be helped/accounted for after natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or otherwise find themselves in distress, etc.

It is true that the expatriates are not affected by the policies of their country in the same ways as those residing in the country itself, but they are affected anyway. At the minimum they are dependent on their country providing (and renewing) them with a valid travel document (such as a passport or a laissez-passez).

Yet when they are able to vote, their voice counts as much as the voice of someone actually living in the country.

What is the justification for an expatriate having democratic rights in their home country even after leaving it?

The most crucial point here is whether voting is seen as a right or as a privilege. If voting is regarded as a citizen's right, and the citizen has committed no crimes, this right cannot be revoked from them. However, some countries do adopt the attitude that voting is a privilege, granted to those living within the country (typically, more than the half of the calendar year). One example is Israel: the Israeli citizenship is accessible to anyone subject to antisemitism, including many people who have little knowledge of the local realities and/or have never lived in the country. For this reasons Israel allows voting only for the resident citizens - which is a matter of an ongoing political debate (e.g., see here).

  • 1
    I lost my UK vote after 15 years abroad. I then took up German citizenship. If the UK had allowed me to continue voting I would not have needed to. There is probably a case for an MP purely for ex-pats.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 11:30

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