Nine out of ten of the 149,000 British citizens who emigrated from the UK last year were of working age and up to 8000 were pensioners, all adding to the estimated 5 million or more living overseas.
Of particular concern to the government because of the longer term impact on the British economy and the availability of skills in the UK, should be the increased emigration of e.g. scientists, academics and pharmacists who tend to remain abroad for many years. The example is telling of British scientists emigrating to Boston to work in pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and who tend to stay in the USA for an average of 12 years. This is getting perilously close to that 15-year-limit on their UK voting rights when the government, and indeed all the political partiess, should instead be looking at every incentive to maintain contact and bring their skills back to the UK economy in the future.
The numbers of other professionals such as doctors, engineers and senior company executives who are leaving has also risen sharply in the past two decades, to the main benefit of countries such as Australia, America and Canada, with no serious efforts on behalf of the government to even encourage them to retain an interest through the voting system. However, the bureaucratic barriers from a pre-Internet age, to conveniently registering and then actually voting in time from overseas, are so discouraging that only around 30,000 British voters living abroad are registered as such. The Electoral Commission has at least provided an on-line access guide to this process on http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk.
Yet in the opposite direction and on the sensitive issue of “uncontrolled” immigration, the government is becoming much more selective about who is allowed to settle in the UK, without discouraging “the brightest and the best”. Studies suggest that immigrants from elsewhere in Europe are much less likely to stay than those from poorer parts of the world, who add to the Uk’s long-term population while the above middle-class brain drain continues.
The government is aware that “to continue competing in a global race, businesses must invest in the skills of UK workers, and retain our highly skilled workforce”. Yet the current law limiting voting rights to 15 years and the difficulties inherent in actually registering and voting during that time, give every indication that the Country is quite happy to dispense with the skills and experience of its expatriate citizens.
There is a lesson for all the political parties to be learned from the very low turnout of 15% in the recent Police & Crime Commissioner elections: citizens of all political persuasion need to be reached out to, more informed & then actively encouraged to exercise their democratic right to vote.
If you agree that the government could do more to encourage its expatriate citizens to vote, we would appreciate you adding your vote here in support of our campaign to remove the 15 year limit on our voting rights.