First up, apologies for asking an open-ended, pro & con, question but I don't know how else to frame it.

I have noticed that modern democracies differ largely with regards to what voting rights should be extended, if any, to resident non-citizens in their respective countries. According to Wikipedia only New Zealand and Uruguay grant full voting rights, i.e. being able to vote in general elections and referendums, to resident non-citizens. All other countries, seem to restrict or withhold those rights.

What arguments could be made for/against extending unlimited suffrage to resident non-citizens?

Here are some that I have come up with but I would be grateful if the Politics SE community could name a few more!


  • Working resident non-citizens pay taxes just like any home born national. Especially, highly skilled foreigners have been found to contribute more, on average, than home born nationals to the economy (findings by the Migration Advisory Committee in the UK - Report here). It thus seems unfair that these tax payers and net contributors to the economy should be exempt from shaping their political future in their adopted home countries


  • Opening up the right to vote to foreigners on a national level may also open up a channel for concerted efforts by foreign governments of influencing foreign policies in the adopted home nations of the resident non-citizens, i.e. a reasonably large group of foreigners living in Country A maybe coerced into voting for something that would favour Country B (Country B being the nation the resident non-citizen was born in)

3 Answers 3


The PRO that gets lost in the conversation is that it improves domestic policy. If a government is seen as the institution charged with creating the best livable environment for those who live in a certain space, then all adults (of sound mind) living in that space should have a say into how well that government is doing its job. A vote is how such an opinion is expressed. There are some basic pragmatic questions about the quality of governing that need an accountability.

For example, the questions such as

  • are the schools providing quality education?
  • are the roads accommodating the load that is put on them and are they connecting the points which need connecting?
  • is there enough construction of new housing to accommodate the growth of the population?

are all questions which affect foreign-born residents as much as they affect native-born residents. So limiting election rights to only the native-born residents can create a dysfunctional system of governing because the people elected to governing positions will not be necessarily the ones proposing the best answers to those questions.

The obvious CON side of opening voting rights to foreign-born residents is that they will have influence on foreign policy. You've mentioned some of the issues involved. But there are even more basic issues. For example, decisions on military alliances and such. If disproportionately many voters are for or against military actions which would benefit a country A, then the people whom they would elect would tend to over-emphasize, or be overly considerate of the interests, of the country A over the foreign interests of their own country.


TLDR: It dramatically varies per country based on other factors.

This question is impossible to answer accurately. I will do my best. The question is loaded with a presumption that full voting rights between nations are equitable. They are not nearly similar enough without a more defined scope of the question to assist in defining what is considered "full voting rights".

A second issue is the question assumes that non-citizen's residents between nations are comparable. This is again not something that can be done without further clarification or definition. Just in North America between Canada, US, and Mexico there are issues comparing these.

My answer is addressing the underlying issue here. Voting rights and levels of citizenship represent degrees of trust and membership to a society. The varied level of power granted to foreigners depend on the culture of the host nation. The pros and cons for granting power to foreigners depends on the culture of the host nation as well, as it is largely influenced by the reasons for migration.

It is a matter of culture.

The core of this question lies at the heart of the culture of the community. Here, the communities are countries. To oversimplify this, every country has its own culture. This culture carries with it the concept of identity and sovereignty.

These communities have a culture with levels of welcomeness, agreeability, or general xenophobia based on generations of experiences. A prime example of probably the most xenophobic community in present-day is the Sentinelese, which likely has a cultural memory of xenophobia developed from having people kidnapped and then everyone dying of disease after that. I would love to hear the elders tell the tales of their people to know their perspective of what the British explorers did. This is a clear example of culture defining how influential the community wants outsiders.

Then you look at New Zealand. They are governed by settlers that conquered the land (you can argue using the word conquer but the indigenous Maori do not rule the land). They are an island nation with very strong natural borders, so they have little to worry about with unwanted people wandering in their borders and begin meddling. This strong natural border means more control can be done with who comes in, leaving less worry about the person once they are in.

This applies to the pros and cons as it pertains to how residents or citizens are viewed by the host community as members of the community.

Voting rights are basically the membership card to that community. It allows influence over that community that has lasting impact. The more capacity to vote, the more of a member.

Voting rights define the class of member a person is to a community. From being a visitor with no say to being the leader of the entire community, every step of eligibility is like a degree/class/rank/level of member.

The definition of visitor, resident, resident-alien, citizen, etc. is a label to these levels of membership to the community.

Establishing what voting rights are to the community allows the pros and cons to be evaluated more appropriately.

Three primary factors are in play that influence this(in order of sentence length):

  1. How hard it is to obtain the voting rights.
  2. How much of a threat outsiders are perceived to be.
  3. How much interest there is to migrate to the community.

This is where the answer falls apart. The relative differences between those factors can make what would be a pro to a con. Given that the situation can change based on context, this type of question is best constrained to a debate on specific examples or countries.

Seeing how dramatically different the Sentinelese are from New Zealand highlights this.

Edit: Typo Edit 2: Illuminating comments added perspective.

  • 1
    You seem to have written a short rambling treatise on how welcoming some cultures might or might not be in comparison to others with some notes on voting rights inexplicably tacked on the end, there's no attempt at answering the question that I can see?
    – Pelinore
    Dec 21, 2018 at 9:27
  • @Pelinore The question is too broad to provide any information on voting itself. The questions scope isn't limited. It is an open question about the rights themselves. The rights themselves do not represent even close to a similar thing across nations, but, more importantly, across cultures. Examine the question to answer it across any two countries and you begin to see this. If you have issues with the ramblings, let me know what is excessive and counter to the answer and I can attempt to address it.
    – David S
    Dec 21, 2018 at 15:18
  • 1
    ^ "It is an open question about the rights themselves" Um, no, it's not, have you read the question, or is this maybe not the question you did read, or was it edited after this answer into a completely different question?
    – Pelinore
    Dec 21, 2018 at 15:41
  • @Pelinore I am attempting to answer the question as it is asked. There is one question mark. It references only "modern democracies" and I used one of the two example countries listed. I am not making assumptions to tailor the answer to a presumed specificity. Hence my warning at the beginning of the answer. I will happily edit this answer to the question should the question be augmented. In its current state, your critique to my answers fail to account for the vagueness of the question. If you are able to glean details I missed, please assist or provide your own answer.
    – David S
    Dec 21, 2018 at 16:14
  • 1
    ^ what on earth are you blathering about? : this is the question : "What are the advantages/disadvantages of extending full voting rights to resident non-citizens?" while this : "What arguments could be made for/against extending unlimited suffrage to resident non-citizens?" : despite the different words used is exactly the same question, you've not answered it, end of.
    – Pelinore
    Dec 21, 2018 at 16:19

A permanent resident with the vote is almost a citizen, but not quite -- a second class citizen.

In previous centuries, some countries used to have different "grades" of citizenship with different legal rights. Often it was the other way around than proposed here, citizens without the vote instead of non-citizens with the vote. But nowadays it is understood that citizens should be equal before the law.

Is there any difference between a resident alien with the vote and a citizen?

There are some differences remaining even if a resident alien is given the vote. Usually citizenship can be inherited even if the child is born abroad, but legal residency may not in all cases be inherited. Citizens may be drafted to the military, but not so with legal residents. In addition, legal residency may be revoked administrative procedure or court proceedings. Revoking a citizenship is usually much more difficult.

But in a country under the rule of law, residency won't be revoked for capricious or arbitrary reasons. Residents may have a right to family reunion visas for their dependents, even if conditions are stricter than for citizens.

Why not ask permanent residents to become citizens?

If a legal resident wants to determine the future of the country, he or she should make the commitment to join the people of that country permanently, not just temporarily. Voting isn't about the next 6 months, or business cycle, or 5-year plan: voting sets legal stuff in place for the next 6 years, generational cycle, or 5-decade plan. It is reasonable to require that the people who make these kinds of decisions are the same as the ones who will experience the consequences of these decisions.

But what about local votes?

Allowing resident aliens to vote in local elections is much more common than allowing them to vote in national elections. But a city or rural district is not sovereign. Decisions by a city council can be controlled by the national government or courts.

  • 1
    This doesn't look like an answer to the question to me?
    – Pelinore
    Dec 21, 2018 at 9:32
  • 1
    ^ is a statement of opinion (yours, not that it's one I don't agree with), what it's not is an answer to "what are the advantages & disadvantages of doing this", it doesn't even approach being an answer to the question.
    – Pelinore
    Dec 21, 2018 at 10:09
  • 1
    not really, the question is asking what the advantages & disadvantages (presumably to the host nation) of extending full voting rights to resident non-citizens might be, your answer boils down to "I'd be miffed so it shouldn't happen" (OK, exaggeration for effect there, I'd also be miffed by the way), it simply doesn't speak to what the advantages or disadvantages to the nation might be, have I made myself a bit clearer?
    – Pelinore
    Dec 21, 2018 at 10:17
  • 1
    ^ you'd be miffed I'd be miffed : therein might lie a potential angle to outline a possible disadvantage based around the potential for general miffdness, public dissent & disorder among the existing citizen base feeling that their "natural prerogatives" where being eroded, something like that maybe.
    – Pelinore
    Dec 21, 2018 at 10:32
  • 1
    Yup, but it needs some exploration of what valid reasons an existing citizen base has for feeling miffed about it : "how does it damage them" : those reasons (if valid) will tend to be the advantages or disadvantages (in this instance disadvantages of course) to the nation they belong to that the question asks for.
    – Pelinore
    Dec 21, 2018 at 10:49

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .