An increasing number of Hungarians live illegally in the US

Hungarian diplomats avoid talking about the uncomfortable subject of undocumented Hungarians living illegally in the US. Recently the Embassy of Hungary in Washington DC hosted all Honorary Consuls serving in the US and Ambassador László Szabó thanked them for their work and hoped for continued assistance in strengthening the ties between the two countries.

Honorary Consuls at the Hungarian Embassy in Washington DC.

For the first time six representatives (!) of the Department of Homeland Security also attended the meeting to explain the issues related to the Visa Waiver program which enables Hungarian passport holders to enter and stay in the US for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. Visitors must first have authorization under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) system, an inexpensive and simple process that can be completed online.

President Trump is considering making changes to this system because he thinks that the existing rules make it too easy to enter to the US and that it should be reviewed amid heightened concerns about terrorism.

During 2016 a total of 934 Hungarian immigrants completed the naturalization process and obtained US citizenship. During the same time period 126 Hungarians were “removed” from the US, in most cases deported back to their home country. Twenty-eight persons had criminal status in the US, 16 had previous criminal records. Also, for various reasons 182 Hungarian passport holders were denied entry to the US.

From the total of 82,533 Hungarian entry to the US the total overstay rate stood at 2.75% and the so called “in-county” overstay was 2.23% in 2016. In other words, it is suspected that 1,841 Hungarians stayed in the US illegally. If the overstay rate goes above a 3% threshold Hungary could be excluded from the Visas Waiver program. It is worth to mention that Hungarian numbers are higher than the Czech (1.11%) or Slovak (1.85%) rates. (Poland is not admitted to the Visa Waiver program.)

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) stepped up enforcement under the Trump administration.

One of the reasons for the high rates of overstay is the policy of distributing passports to ethnic Hungarians in the Carpathian basin. Many in Romania, Serbia and Ukraine obtain Hungarian passports for the single purpose of entering to the US via the Visa Waiver program. In those countries it is harder to get a US visas and according to press reports, Hungarian passports can also be “purchased” from corrupt officials. (Read more here.)

There are no official or semiofficial numbers but it is a fair estimate that 1,000-2,000 visitors “overstay” annually and there are at least 10,000 “Hungarians” living illegally in the US. The majority of them entered in the last decade and some never lived in Hungary. They obtained Hungarian passports in other countries using various legal (and illegal) schemes. It is also suspected that some Hungarian politicians are financially benefiting from the passport trade by marketing the Hungarian residency bond program in various countries including China. (Read about the bond program here.)

It is unfortunate that US-based Hungarian diplomats are not forthcoming about the illegal immigration problem. Additional research is needed to understand the nature of Hungary’s illegal immigration and it would be advisable if the Orbán government would restrict or reduce the number of Hungarian passport holders in non-Visa Waiver countries.

If Hungary is kicked out from the Visa Waiver program its citizens will have a harder time to enter the US and the cost of the entry visa would be higher. In addition, the lingering issue of illegal Hungarian immigration casts a cloud on Hungarian-US relations.

György Lázár

9 Comments

  1. Hungarian „propaganda minister“, Antal Rogán, main architect of the controversal residency bond program, recently boasted publicly that there is not a single person who bought Hungarian citizenship (and passport) through the residency bond program has settled in Hungary, as far as he knows!!!
    Read (in Hungarian) about it in detail here:
    https://mno.hu/belfold/rogan-egyetlen-letelepedesi-kotvenyes-sem-el-magyarorszagon-2433076

    • 1. Let’s be clear – the residency bond does not offer citizenship, no use re entry to the US.
      2. Rogan is speculating, he doesn’t know who settled where since there’s no tracking sys.
      3. The scheme is just another grand misappropriation.
      4. If Rogan is largely right, than the res bond buyers are probably those who didn’t/wouldn’t get res permit in W.Eu, i.e. the Orbán regime is selling out the security of W.Europe.

  2. The two issues are not connected. Those People buying the residency bond, do not Need a Hungarian pass in order to enter the USA. They have plenty of Money.
    Those Hungarians and ethnic Hungarians who received a Hungarian passport who overstay there visa, can do so if they work or have another source of income.

  3. György Lázár says:

    Dear Karl,

    You bring up an interesting issue. You are right… investors with a lot of money can get US investor’s visas directly from the US by creating a business with risking $1,000,000; or $500,000 in rural areas. The Hungarian program for an EU passport is cheap and practically risk-free for the investor when they buy 300K guaranteed gov bonds. According to this Hungarian language article, in Transylvania ethnic Hungarians use the Hungarian citizenship to enter to Canada and the US. The issue is that they generally work there and also get paid under the table… avoiding taxes.
    http://www.atv.hu/belfold/20131019-jo-penzert-megvasarolhato-a-magyar-allampolgarsag/hirkereso

  4. But Hungarians as well Romanians can enter the US only vith a US visa.
    They allowed in for 90 day visit but do not return after their 90 day stay.
    There are millions like that in US, who over-stay their welcome.
    But now ICE is cracking down on them. But the trouble-makers come first. But many are deported every single day.

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  6. György Lázár says:

    Dear Observer, You are correct. The residency bond does not offer immediate citizenship… but it leads to Hungarian citizenship after a waiting period.

  7. Bende
    Hungarians do not need visa, just prior electronic registration.

    Làzàr
    The right to residence does not ” lead to” anything (a bit legalistic, as this may sound); 8 years uninterrupted residence is only one of the conditions for obtaining citizenship. Notably most, if not all bond buyers reside outside Hun. Citizenship is of no importance in the short/medium term, since these people can wheel and deal around as they please for decades.

    Btw : the regime celebrated the granting of the 1 millionth citizenship to Hungarians “living beyond he borders”. Now these new citizens are heavily represented in the undesirable occurrences both in the US and in Eu and they can come and go to Hungary without any control.

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