Hungarian immigrants in London and environs

After a lot of guesswork, fairly accurate data on Hungarians working abroad became public about a month ago. The size of the recent Hungarian diaspora is much greater than first estimated. Earlier there were talks about maybe 300,000, and official Hungary emphasized that these people were not really emigrants but only guest workers. They left for a short while to make some money either to cover the family’s current expenses and debts or to use their savings to establish their own businesses after returning to Hungary. I remember one television or radio discussion on the subject where an “expert” kept comparing the situation to late nineteenth-century Hungarian emigration to the New World. Most new emigrants would return, just as a large percentage of earlier emigrants did. In the first place, historians dealing with nineteenth-century emigration tended to inflate the percentage of returnees; the vast majority never saw their birthplace again. Moreover,  although the new wave of Hungarians who have left and continue to leave the country can easily return to Hungary for visits, it is unlikely that many will return permanently.

First, let’s talk about the numbers. A firm called KFTkreátor that specializes in helping Hungarians start their own businesses in Romania, Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic collected the figures, mostly from the Eurostat database. Apparently, Eurostat normally underestimates the numbers, and thus it is possible that their total of 580,534 is on the low side. The actual figure might be over 600,000. That is an enormous number if we consider that the Hungarian work force at present is around 4 million. Here is KFTkreátor’s list. (Those readers of Hungarian Spectrum who are from the United Kingdom were right when they talked about a very large Hungarian community in Great Britain.)


Since then a new study was conducted among Hungarian immigrants in Great Britain, mostly in and around London, by the Institute of Minority Affairs, one of the research institutes of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Researchers at the Institute decided to conduct a poll to gain a clearer understanding of the causes, motivations, and trends in Hungarian emigration to Great Britain. The survey is based on a sample of 5,200 people. The questionnaire consisted of 23 questions probing their reasons for leaving Hungary, their present economic situation, and their mental state. Given the size of the sample, the sociologists believe the results give a reliable picture of the Hungarian diaspora in England.

Here are some noteworthy findings. It seems that, despite protestations to the contrary, 65.1% of those in the sample arrived after 2010. The largest wave came in 2012. Almost 80% of them came because of greater economic opportunities in the British Isles, but many also mentioned the bad political climate. The group is well educated. More than half of them are university graduates. Only 1% had only a grade-eight education. Interestingly enough and unlike earlier emigration waves, the percentages of women and men are roughly equal: 49.2% versus 50.8%. Seventy-two percent are between the ages of 25 and 40. The average age is 33. Most of these people actually had full-time or part-time jobs in Hungary (70.1%). Currently, the great majority of them have jobs (90%). Others are either college students or unemployed.

These people seem to be satisfied with their new situation, especially compared to their lives in Hungary. Only 10% think their economic situation has not improved or has actually worsened. 73.1% of them do not contemplate returning to Hungary. Most of them said categorically that they have no intention of ever returning to Hungary. Only 20.8% said they will return to Hungary within a few years and only 6.1% think they will return within a year.

This is clearly a very different group of emigrants from, let’s say, those 200,000 people who left Hungary after the 1956 revolution. Importantly, almost all of the people who currently live in and around London already had job offers before packing up and leaving. Compare that to the ’56 refugees who spoke no foreign languages and who started out washing dishes or waitressing in diners and sandwich shops regardless of their educational attainments. Among the Hungarian ’56 refugees there were few women. Moreover, it seems to me that this crowd adjusts much more readily to their new surroundings than did those who left Hungary after 1956. The explanation for this difference is simple. Hungary before 1956 and for many years thereafter was almost hermetically closed off from the rest of the world. These people, on the other hand, left twenty years after the iron curtain fell. Life in their new country is not so radically different from what they were used to in Hungary.

Not long ago I read a story about a young university student from the County of Baranya. He may have been a graduate of a Pécs high school. He is now a second-year student in one of the universities in Vienna. When the reporter kept pressing him why he is studying in Vienna instead of Hungary, his answers painted a picture of a new generation that considers itself European despite Viktor Orbán’s nationalistic propaganda. He explained that he never considered even applying to a Hungarian university, and he finds Vienna very much to his liking. He has many friends from all over the globe. He is especially friendly with a bunch of Spanish students. When people in Hungary ask why he decided to study “so far away,” he explains that Debrecen is much farther from Pécs than Vienna is.

The article that reported on the Hungarians in London and environs bears the title: “Strong  signal to the government–Hungary already lost them.” I would put it differently. For this new generation the old Hungarian romantic notion that one has to live and die in Hungary no longer holds true. They are already European citizens.


  1. What I would be very curious about is the following:
    1610 in Romania. Does the Hungarian government considers the employment of the new Hungarian citizens in Romania as the increase on HUngarian employment data?
    As we learned before that for statistical purposes the Hungarian government did include certain data from those Hungarians who are working outside of Hungary. So, do they include the numbers of the “new Hungarians” from Romania or from the Ukraine?

  2. We can now see the real reason Fidesz want to restrict learning English at school. I was out at the seaside in the UK today and I heard at least 8 people talking in Hungarian.

  3. No information on other countries, which is odd considering that Turkey is included but not Ukraine or Russia. I imagine that there are more than a few in Dubai, and I know there are plenty in the US. I have seen too many Florida license plates here in Budapest to believe that the US-based diaspora isn’t larger than the 21 in Latvia.

    I don’t know why this is treated as some kind of scandal. Orbán is happy to get rid of such people as outlined in the article, and to have better employment rate numbers (the jobs they gave up had to go to someone). Besides, there are plenty of ethnic Hungarians moving here from Romania, Ukraine and Serbia all the time to replace them, and they might be more likely to vote for Fidesz out of gratitude for the Schengen passport. If I were a Fidesznik, I would be celebrating. Those who move away permanently don’t vote in Hungarian elections, whether it’s easy to or not.

    As far as your assertion, Eva, that most of them won’t come back to stay, I’ve seen plenty of anecdotal evidence to the contrary. I know quite a few Hungarians who didn’t intend to move back, but they changed their minds once they wanted to start having children, or once their parents got older, or once they had enough of being seen as an outsider. Right now, Eastern Europeans are not very popular in England, and I think there’s a very good chance that most of them won’t be allowed to continue working there once Britain leaves the EU (I’m convinced it will happen, especially if Scotland leaves the UK – when has a referendum ever gone the EU’s way?).

  4. @Googly, it is not my assertion that most of them will not go back to Hungary. This is what the majority of them said. I know a couple with a small child (she just started first-grade a couple of years ago) who are now here and the child doesn’t want to go back because she had such rotten time in a Hungarian school. On the other hand, she loves her school in Princeton.

  5. On a trip to London and Cambridge in 2011 we found that a large number of the staff in our hotels were Hungarians It was a definite advantage to be bilingual to establish friendly relations with hotel staff in both places.

  6. I don’t know any Hungarians in Britain who have any intention of returning to live in Hungary, ever. Further, there isn’t any real danger to any UK-based Hungarians should the country leave the EU in a few years’ time … There will be no instant expulsion of millions of people and the backlog of cases to process will take some considerable time. Most Hungarians currently in Britain will have qualified for citizenship through residency by then anyway. As for Scotland, it’s worth pointing out that the ruling SNP are not only pro-Scottish but also extremely pro-EU, much more so than almost any other party in Europe. Cultural pride without ethnic hatred – now there’s a thing.

  7. Our closest relatives are the Palestinians.
    Blessed with the same lousy leaders.
    And the diaspora just grows.
    Arafat undercut the integration of the Palestinians in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Kuwait….
    Orban is trying pretty hard the same.
    Russia will be the only nation, welcoming us.

  8. OT Angela Merkel will meet main Juncker opponents prime ministers David Cameron of Britain, Frederik Reinfeldt of Sweden and Mark Rutte of the Netherlands in Harpsund, Sweden today.

  9. I’ve met and talked with quite a few Hungarians in the USA, Germany and Austria and know relatives of some who went to Switzerland and of course my wife’s relatives in the USA – who just celebrated that now everybody got their US citizenship …

    So from my own experience I’d also conclude that the majority won’t return to Hungary – unless the wages there get comparable to those elsewhere, which probably won’t happen for a long, long time.

    On the other hand many of these people come to Hungary on holiday and also send money to relatives and often they return as retirees – spending the money they earned elsewhere, so there is a real financial contribution to the Hungarian economy by these people.

    Btw, does anyone know numbers on this? It should be more than a billion €s annually I’d guess.

    And from my own experience I can also conclude that there a people of all qualifications leaving, from “simple workers” (I don’t have anything against them, of course hard working people are welcome everywhere) to highly qualified nurses, doctors and other professionals – so there is a kind of brain drain going on.

    Maybe Fidesz sees this differently: The most rebellious are leaving …

  10. I just can’t wait to leave Hungary so that I can say, “I won’t return!”
    Hungary–It’s the asshole of the continent.
    “Chrisian Hungary”–How can any decent person stomach the appellation?

  11. If there are really so many Hungarians living in the UK, why are there now so fewer flights between the two countries? I’ve yet to meet a Hungarian that didn’t go back periodically, and it doesn’t really add up.

  12. Eva: @Gabor. One million seems to be incredibly and unbelievably high. By the way, I have never encountered this news source before.

    The Hir3 was established in 2011, and is currently registered in Bekescsaba.

    The 1 million plus is possible as per the article it was based upon people with TB number (Social Security number). Every Hungarian national (including toddlers) and foreigners (as long as they are registered in Hungary with the TB) will have a number. So it is possible to have (say) 600,000 Hungarians, and over 400,000 foreigners registered with the Hungarian TB abroad.

  13. HiBoM, most Hungarians I know in Brussels still drive back regularly. Sure they could fly but going home by car allows them to bring back more goods from home.

  14. theestampe, I do a great deal of driving and always look out for Hungarian cars. I hardly ever see Hungarian number plates other than Waberer lorries!

  15. We also travel regularly via Munich and Graz/Salzburg/Linz (depending on the traffic situation) and often it’s obvious that there are emigrants/expats/foreign workers on the road – they usually have Western Europe licence plates!

    Typical: I and E (and partially F and B) are Romanians.

    NL and GB (and DACH) are mostly Hungarians and Poles.

    Of course Greeks and Serbs and Bulagarians also are on the road …


    HU and RO (and UK and BIH etc …) licence plates are mostly on micro buses/vans/transporters – often with an old automobile in tow …

  16. Well, it’s not a scientific observation of course, but the Hungarian expats I know in Britain don’t even holiday much in Hungary any more. And I’m yet to meet a single openly Fidesz supporting emigrant. It’s not a coincidence, therefore, that Fidesz cares little for this monumental brain drain, or that in the recent election they made it so much more difficult for Hungarians in Britain to vote than Hungarians in Transylvania. Also, a number of Hungarians in the UK quite like the fact that they can openly state their opposition to racism without being condemned as some kind of traitor or abnormal being. Strange, but true.

  17. Sorry, “UK” should have been “UA” of course – you see a lot of them nowadays on the M7 south of the Balaton – but there you also have TR and GR and RUS lorries taking things to/from the Adria seaports.

    Small cars (slowly driven to save gas …) with HU/RO plates and occupied by people returning to work in Germany etc we see mainly on the Austrian/Bavarian motorways when we “commute” from the Balaton to the Black Forest on Sundays.

    A bit OT:

    If you’re thinking of travelling to Hungary by car, the best day of the week (or almost the only one) is Sunday – working days are horrible, especially in summer when the tourist traffic is added to those thousands of lorries/trucks – and Saturdays are even worse because most weekly holidays run from Saturday to Saturday!

    Traffic has become even worse during the last years and there just are not enough roads (and tunnels in Austria!) – about the only compensation is the lack of border controls …

  18. HiBoM
    June 9, 2014 at 5:20 am
    If there are really so many Hungarians living in the UK, why are there now so fewer flights between the two countries? I’ve yet to meet a Hungarian that didn’t go back periodically, and it doesn’t really add up.

    Well, THere used to be direct flight between Canada/USA to Hungary (there were even small charters out of Hamiilton, ON in the Summer) and they are all defunct. (Of course Malev went belly up, but Delta stopped, and no other airlines are picking up the slack.) So what does this mean according to your theory, as for example the Orban government is reporting record number of tourists also to Hungary.

  19. Some1, I don’t have a theory. I just don’t see that many Hungarians in the UK compared to other nationalities. I fly myself regularly and am surprised how few flights there are to Hungary but also how easy it is to get tickets. When I compare it to the amount of air traffic servicing Poland, it doesn’t add up that there are as many Hungarians in the UK as the ministry is saying. But this is a subjective impression, so I may be totally wrong.

  20. Eva: “@JeanP, Did Merkel leave out Viktor Orbán from this gathering?”

    The meeting is taking place in the summer residence of the Swedish prime minister. It may be he who left Orban out. More likely all of them agreed on it.

  21. I also find it a bit unrealistic that 80% will not return. But I don’t find it unrealistic that 80% SAY they will not return!

    I regularly meet Hungarians who are moving or planning to move home, and meet many more Hungarians who constantly criticise life in the UK. To me and others living here, that is. As soon as they go home (or get asked by some statistician from Hungary) they declare loudly and categorically that they will never go back to Hungary.

    This is sometimes an emotional response, an atmosphere-creating “habit”. Like many people in Hungary state that they want “their children” to leave and live abroad. Whether it will actually happen is a question.
    Many educated people in Britain feel that they only get jobs for which they are overqualified, many prefer to have children in Hungary so that they can have “real” Hungarian children, who speak perfect Hungarian and have Hungarian values. Most Hungarians feel that British society doesn’t accept them, they feel isolated, vulnerable and socialize mainly with other Hungarians. (Women who are married into the society are an exception, like Wolfi’s or Paul’s wife, or me.)

    Maybe it is easier for a Hungarian to assimilate in Germany?, I don’t know.

    Having said that, there really has been a huge increase of Hungarians in the UK since 2010. I predict that as the Hungarian economy picks up and/or the political scene changes, even more people will be returning. But not yet.

  22. I enjoyed Wolfi’s thorough analysis of what nationalities number plates hide! 😀

    If we drive to Hungary (from England), we like to stay in Germany for at least one night on the way. Fantastically picturesque places, like a little holiday within the holiday. Austria is very beautiful, too!

  23. @ HiBoM,

    There are plenty of flights to the UK. In fact the Debrecen offers flights to the UK also! Given the current situation the only airlines that can fly direct would be BA, BM, Wizz and Ryan. Everyone else has to end up back in their country of origin.

  24. @petofi
    re: “I just can’t wait to leave Hungary so that I can say, “I won’t return!”
    Hungary–It’s the asshole of the continent.
    “Chrisian Hungary”–How can any decent person stomach the appellation?”

    Hi petofi a.k.a Walking Eagle:
    Do not blame a country for making a bad business decision. What the hell keeps you there?

  25. Not too much OT re flights to the UK:

    RyanAir had 3 flights a week from Stansted to the Balaton/Hévíz airport at Sármellék until 6 years ago – now there are none at all. That feels really strange, if Wizzair gets enough passengers for their Debrecen flights, why no flights from here?

    I know there are quite a few Brits around, some with houses, others as tourists – I’ve talked to them …

    Does anyone have an idea why there are no more flights here?


    Lufthansa still has a few flights on Saturdays and there are also flights to Russia, at least in summer. And sometimes you read about a flight to Switzerland or Scandinavia, but these seem to be exceptions.

  26. @Gabor, Eva: I wonder how they keep track of Hungarians in the UK… by citizenship or by ethnicity? Is it possible that ethnic Hungarians immigrating from Romania/Slovakia report themselves as Hungarian? But even so, 1.4 million seems way too high.

  27. An, that’s the problem. I don’t know how the UK keep track – eg when you leave, you don’t have to tell the authorities, so half of those 1.4 million might have returned home or gone to work in another EU member state. There are no identity cards or official record of addresses or employment.
    In fact, that’s one of the reaons why Brits have no idea about the exact number of E-EU immigrants, and UKIP and the like can scream hysterically about the extreme guesses. How many of them use the NHS (state healthcare) and for what, how many have children in state schools, how many claim benefits and how much tax they pay.

    Ask the Germans (Finns, Swedes) and they will know: 135 614 in Germany.
    The UK is guessing between 400.000 and 1.4 million, it’s ridiculous…

    But when they do keep record, it will be based on citizenship, not on ethnicity.

  28. Wolfi, I’m not sure about Heviz, but the majority of the passengers of the Debrecen flights seem to be from the Ukraines, Romania etc., not actually from Debrecen. So Kosa’s daydreams about English dental patients flooding Debrecen didn’t quite happen…

  29. @Kormos

    I happen to have been born in Budapest. I also like the city–one of the nicest in the world.
    I always planned to return for my retirement years but who could’ve known that 2,000 years of
    Judeo-Christian civilization would be dumped by a no-account “Felcsutian” who never held a job in his life; and would be, tongues hanging out, followed by the mindless Hungarian hordes?

    I know that Hungarian university degrees are, by and large, not worth the paper they’re written on but hasn’t anyone here learned the value of self-education? It seems that no one here seems
    to have the foggiest about what correct governance entails; or even how to spot a flagrant con-artist…

  30. London Calling!

    Cheshire Cat

    Your posts always seem tinged with anti-British angst!

    When you leave through an airport your passport number and details are automatically logged. You are also photographed and linked to your passport or ID card when you leave most UK airports.

    When you board a ferry your registration is logged by the ANPR cameras and also when you disembark.

    You are only ‘invisible’ when you enter illegally and some estimates put the illegal community at 4 million. This is a sad community because they survive as an underclass – without healthcare or decent support – and are exploited terribly – most often it seems by fellow legal citizens of the same nationality – but not all of course.

    So the government knows exactly how many Hungarians there are in England. As they do the Poles, Romanians etc.

    Unlike Hungary which doesn’t have a clue. Tappanch will tell you that they count emigrants’ jobs in their own stats – such is the integrity of the KSH. They don’t really want to count them so they can stay in denial.

    That the numbers have not been collated properly in the UK, or published, is because it is such a hot potato.

    There is a massive flood of people wanting to leave Hungary from my experience – whole families. And known to us.

    And ALL say they will not be back.

    And it’s pretty obvious why.

    One working in healthcare has earned more in 4 months in England than she would have done working for a whole year in the financial job she left to come over here.

    And now she is bringing the family over.

    Two of our acquaintances did actually return – to marry.

    I am wondering how long before they get itchy feet with the lousy pay and come back!

    My partner made a special visit to vote and she was so sickened by the overwhelming open support for Fidesz and Jobbik that she cancelled any further involvement with the village. Ne Rien.

    It’s unbelievably Roman Catholic and unbelievably Fidesz.

    You probably know that Gyor was only second to Vas in its fervent support for Orban and it’s sickening there.

    However the house is a delightful oasis of calm and a great bolt hole – as long as you don’t fraternise with the locals!



  31. CharlieH: One working in healthcare has earned more in 4 months in England than she would have done working for a whole year in the financial job she left to come over here.

    It is not only Healthcare. It relates to all employees (who have a normal job and salariy). In Hungary half of the salary is going to the government (taxes and social security). Hungary is the fourth worst of all OECD countries. See the following graphics/report. It is interactive just play with it.

  32. Charlie, in general, I’m not anti-British.
    I’m against ignorance-fuelled EU-phobia and Eastern-European phobia.

    I have lived here since before the EU enlargement, and I’m not happy to experience a strengthening hostility against us. I can’t believe that almost half of Britain would rather vote to exit the EU just so they can get rid of us.

  33. London Calling!

    Cheshire Cat.

    It is to the English’ eternal shame that a body of people are so anti-immigrant.

    But it is a minority – even if it is a vocal one.

    Not to excuse it, but during any downturn of an economy anywhere, then this sentiment gets stronger.

    The ‘Little England’ UKIPpers are a sad group of people – and are not the brightest lights in the chandelier.

    I don’t know what circles you move in but most of my acquaintances are pro EU.

    And it is an incontrovertible fact that our economy cannot survive in the future without our immigrant population – quite apart from the rich diversity and culture that you all bring.

    And I welcome a second referendum regarding our EU membership because it will shut the eurosceptics up once and for all. Well at least for a few years.

    Most intelligent people realise that foreign workers are pure GDP and we are very lucky that so many people want to come here – Yes Really.

    Our economy is doing very well at the moment and Matolcsy and Orban must be eating their hearts out at their population’s contribution to the UK economy – and the negation of theirs.

    Compare this with the problems in the Bavarian motor factories. They can’t get enough workers for their car industry – the ageing population is getting older and older and there is a desperate shortage of workers.

    The future depends on attracting immigrants – San doubt.

    The English referendum will be overwhelmingly positive for the EU, just wait and see.

    And the Scots will vote to stay a la Obama and Bowie advice.

    You are very welcome – ignore the ignorant they are truly ignorant.



  34. Charlie – I’ve been reading Cheshire Cat’s posts for years, and I don’t recall her ever making an anti-British statement. Indeed she actually comes across as very British!

    My experience with Hungarians living in the UK doesn’t match hers, though.

    Pre-2010, Hungarians were few and far between over here, and the ones you did meet were generally homesick and couldn’t wait to get back. They were here to attend college or learn English or earn a bit of money, but none of them considered settling down here. Certainly none of them would have considered for one second starting a family here.

    But recently things have changed dramatically. For a start there are far more Hungarians over here – whereas once it was a novelty to hear Hungarian, now it is an everyday experience. Walking through town or shopping at Aldi, I can often overhear three or four different Hungarian couples. And that’s the other big change – couples are coming over, not just single people. And they tend to be older – late 20s, early 30s.

    And the really big change – they start families here, or sometimes bring their young families over with them. Once you have a family in another country it is far more difficult to ‘go back’ – your kids become ‘natives’ of the other country, fluent in a foreign language and steeped in a foreign culture. To them, Hungary isn’t home, Britain is. And, apart from the attraction of the summer weather and visiting grandparents, what has Hungary got to offer? I’m afraid, much as I like my adopted country, to anyone brought up in the UK, Hungary seems very poor and backward – especially to the less sophisticated minds of children who are used to life in the UK.

    Whatever Hungarians in Britain might say (or believe/intend), I’m afraid most of them have made a one-way move. They will not be going back.

    One last thing – much as I admire Cheshire Cat’s posts and generally agree with her, I must caution against her fears on UKIP, etc. I understand how these things must seem to a Hungarian living in Britain, even one as fully immersed as CC, but the reality is quite different to the media hype. For all its recent success, UKIP is still a one-man party and still a party of protest. For instance, an analysis of people who voted UKIP in the recent elections revealed that over half of them weren’t anti-EU! Most of them aren’t racists or anti-foreigners either. And many (most?) intend to return to voting for their first-choice party in the national election next year.

    Although far from perfect, we are generally a non-racist, tolerant people, with a long history of resisting extremism. UKIP is a passing phenomenon, it will burn brightly for a while and then fade – just like all its predecessors. True, at the moment it’s sudden popularity (or rather the media hype about its popularity – its vote in the local elections actually declined) has highlighted the issue of eastern-Europeans working and living in the UK, but most people aren’t that bothered about it. We have a long history of absorbing waves of immigrants, and this is just the latest of those. Indeed most of us ARE immigrants if you go back two or three generations!

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