US Restricts Visa Free Access For Hungarian Passport Holders

US Restricts Visa Free Access For Hungarian Passport Holders

On 01 August, the United States announced that it will limit Hungary’s participation in its visa waiver program over security concerns.

Under the US Visa Waiver Program, citizens of participating countries can travel to the US for tourism or business for up to 90 days without a visa, and only need an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) to enter the country.

With immediate effect, ESTA validity for Hungarian passport holders will be reduced from two years to one, and an ESTA will only be valid for a single use.

Before such a restriction was imposed, Hungarian passport holders were entitled to multiple visits. 

There are forty countries in the ESTA scheme and only Hungary is to face restrictions. These changes stem from security concerns related to Hungarian passports issued between 2011 and 2020. 

The US has expressed concern over the simplified naturalisation process, specifically the lack of stringent identity verification mechanisms. The issues have been on the table for many years, with the US engaging multiple Hungarian administrations to address this “security vulnerability.”

Citizenship Security Risks

In 2011, Hungary’s government, under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s leadership, introduced a simplified naturalisation procedure for individuals claiming Hungarian ancestry. 

Whether they lived or intended to live in Hungary, this facilitated the acquisition of Hungarian citizenship by hundreds of thousands of ethnic Hungarians residing in neighbouring countries, particularly in Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine. 

Critics have raised concerns that this program allowed non-tax-paying ethnic Hungarians in other countries to vote in Hungarian elections.

Responding to the US decision, Hungary’s Interior Ministry issued a statement noting that the US had asked for the personal data of ethnic Hungarians abroad with dual citizenship.

The Hungarian government argued that it wished to protect its citizens’ security and would not provide that information. “This is why President Joe Biden’s administration is now taking revenge on Hungarians,” the statement said.

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