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US tightens visa waiver for Hungarians

August 3rd, 2023

Opinions sharply diverge on the decision by the United States to limit the validity of visa-free entry permits for Hungarian citizens to one journey per year.

On Tuesday, the US Embassy announced that the validity period offered to Hungarians under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) will be reduced from two years to one and that only single visits will be allowed instead of multiple ones. Hungary granted citizenship to about one million people between 2011 and 2020, but the US Embassy argued that the Hungarian authorities did so ‘without adequate security measures in place to verify their identities’. In a statement to the MTI news agency, the Hungarian Interior Ministry attributed the travel restrictions to Hungary’s refusal to hand over to the United States the data of citizens of neighbouring countries who have been granted Hungarian citizenship. ‘The safety of Hungarians in neighbouring countries is at stake, the Ministry argued, therefore that data will not be forwarded to anyone’.

In Magyar Nemzet, Zsolt Bayer suspects that the United States would have transferred the data of ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine with Hungarian citizenship to the Ukrainian authorities who could have clamped down on them, given that Ukraine doesn’t allow dual citizenship. He fulminates at the US administration which apparently considers such ethnic Hungarians a security threat, ‘unlike the masses of illegal immigrants from Central America’.

In Népszava, on the other hand, Gábor Horváth takes the visa waiver restriction as a symbolic gesture by the United States to caution Hungary against continuing to ‘sabotage’ US efforts on the international scene, including most recently, postponing the approval of Sweden’s accession to NATO. If nothing changes, he writes, Hungary ‘may very swiftly find herself in very big trouble’.

In a separate Népszava column, András Rostoványi finds some inconsistency in the American position, remarking that Hungarian citizens born abroad were already barred from the visa waiver program last year. Otherwise, quoting former Foreign Minister Géza Jeszenszky, he writes that the new restrictions are aimed at the Hungarian government, rather than at ordinary Hungarians.

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