The UK just extended the right to vote to 3.5M people living abroad

LONDON — Millions of British people living abroad were given the right to vote in U.K. elections on Tuesday. Campaigners hope it will concentrate the minds of lawmakers.

The new law removing a 15-year time limit on the eligibility of expatriates to vote in U.K. elections could potentially add an estimated 3.5 million people to the electoral register for this year’s U.K. general election, which is expected to be held this fall.

But their enfranchisement comes just after the U.K. government announced it would tighten rules on bringing foreign spouses to the U.K. — a change campaigners say will limit the options of many in the British diaspora.

British in Europe, a citizen group which represents 1.2 million U.K. nationals living on the Continent, has argued the immigration rule change “effectively strips one of our few remaining citizenship rights — the right to return to live in the UK.”

Jane Golding, the group’s co-chair, warned there was a lack of “joined-up thinking” by the U.K. government in upsetting the British diaspora “just before we were about to be re-enfranchised.”

The group is launching a campaign to get U.K. émigrés to alert MPs to their new electorate, and Golding says she hopes it will make politicians “think a bit more” about policies that affect people living abroad.

In December the Home Office said it would lift the minimum income requirement for British citizens bringing their spouses to the U.K. from £18,600 to £38,700 — effectively locking many families out of moving to Britain.

Overseas voters can now register online in a similar way to U.K. resident voters. They will be eligible to vote in the constituency they lived in before they moved abroad, and it will be up to local councils to check their past connection to the area.

Having their names on the electoral register will also mean that long-term British expatriates can now donate to political parties and campaigns.

Craig Westwood, director of communications, at the U.K.’s Electoral Commission, said there would be new “eligible voters in every corner of the world” and urged “those with friends and family abroad to help spread the news.”