The Hungarian government on immigration and emigration

Anyone who bothers to look for figures on immigration into European countries is not going to find much data on Hungary for the simple reason that the number of foreigners living in the country is minuscule. Of course, we all know about large immigrant populations in France, the United Kingdom, and Germany, but there is significant immigration even to countries like Finland or Slovenia. In Sweden, to give but a single example, 32,000 people applied for asylum in 2010.

Until very recently both Hungarian immigration and emigration were of low intensity. Foreign-born inhabitants constitute only 4% of the labor force and about 1% of the population as a whole. These foreign-born individuals are almost exclusively of Hungarian ethnicity. They immigrated from the neighboring countries in the last twenty years or so. Lately, however, the number of emigrants to Western Europe from Hungary has grown enormously. Great Britain, Germany, Austria, Sweden, and the Netherlands are the favorite destinations. At the same time, especially since Croatia became part of the European Union, the immigration routes from the Balkans and the Middle East have changed, and Hungary has become one of the favorite “transit countries” for immigrants wanting to reach countries where economic opportunities are greater. As Péter Mihályi, a well-known Hungarian economist, said the other day, only rich countries have “immigration problems.” Very few immigrants from outside the European Union ever receive permission to settle in Hungary, and the few lucky ones who do immediately pack up and move westward.

According to Hetekthe weekly of the Assembly of Faith (Hitgyülekezet), between 2000 and 2012 only 2,000 to 3,000 people arrived a year, legally or illegally, in Hungary, and as soon as they could, they moved on. But in the last two years these numbers have grown exponentially. Apparently there are days when along the border with Serbia the police arrest 800-1,000 illegals. As for those legally seeking to move to Hungary, in 2013 19,000 immigration applications were received; a year later that number was 43,000. Of these 43,000 potential immigrants only 500 received refugee status.

If it depended on Viktor Orbán, no so-called “economic immigrant” could ever receive permission to settle in Hungary. In fact, if it were up to him, he would stop immigration to Europe altogether. József Szájer, a Fidesz member of the European Parliament for the last ten years, summarized Fidesz’s position in a recent interview on ATV. The argument goes something like this. Western Europeans in the past fifty years or so became too pampered. They didn’t want to do all the dirty work and therefore either imported guest workers like the Germans or relied on immigration from their former colonies like France and the United Kingdom. And look at the result: terrorism in Europe. This must be stopped.


Orbán and his colleagues in Fidesz grossly oversimplify the issue of immigration into the EU. Most economists are convinced that without the Turkish and later Yugoslav guest workers the German economic miracle couldn’t have happened. It is a generally accepted theory that without immigration there can be no economic growth in the western world. This is especially true of Europe where the low birthrate practically mandates a relatively generous immigration policy. Otherwise, soon enough there will be only two wage earners for every retiree. Most European leaders and academics, with the notable exception of Viktor Orbán, maintain that without young immigrants European demographic trends cannot be reversed.

Therefore, the European Union’s current position is that immigration from third-world countries, even if it causes social friction, has great benefits in the long run. According to Péter Mihályi, whom I quoted earlier, “Europe has no future without immigration.” So, if Fidesz were to succeed in stopping all immigration to the country, Hungary’s future would be sealed. The few immigrants accepted into Hungary leave while almost half a million people born in Hungary are currently working abroad, almost exclusively in Western Europe. It is a vicious circle. Hungary is not an attractive country for immigrants, but without immigrants an aging society that cannot reproduce itself is doomed. The problem is only made worse by the large emigration to the West.

A few years back Viktor Orbán himself seemed to have realized this dilemma and went so far as to suggest that ethnic Hungarians should be encouraged to leave Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, and Ukraine and move over to Hungary en masse. Since then, he gave up the idea. It is hard to tell why. Most likely for nationalistic reasons.

There is one more aspect of Viktor Orbán’s ideas on immigration which he himself did not elaborate on but which József Szájer talked about more explicitly. Orbán mentioned briefly that there are unemployed Gypsies who need jobs. As long as they don’t have employment, Europe should not import people from abroad. Some commentators interpreted this fleeting mention of the Roma as suggesting a possible export of Gypsies from Hungary and other Eastern European countries to the West. Judging from what Szájer said, this is exactly what Orbán has in mind. Szájer pointed out that there are 10 million Gypsies in Europe who could do some of the menial jobs that Western Europeans no longer want to do. If the Roma population of Hungary could be exported to Western Europe, the major socioeconomic problem the Orbán government can’t solve, the integration of the Roma, would disappear. Poof! When the reporter noted that the Roma lack skills necessary for some of the available jobs, Szájer made light of the problem by saying that “they will take care of that.” I guess the “they” are the governments of the countries where these migrants would move.

Finally, I would like to call attention to an interview with Viktor Orbán on Magyar Rádió today in which he explained that those Hungarians who could not find jobs in Hungary and moved to the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, and other countries in Western Europe are “not economic immigrants.” They are proud Europeans who have free movement within the boundaries of the European Union. There is no such thing as immigration or emigration within the borders of the European Union. Oh, the duplicity of the man! He has been fiercely defending the sovereignty of nation states for years, but now he is a champion of a single Europe. Of course, strictly speaking he is right: a citizen of an EU country has the right to settle in any of the twenty-eight member states. But when David Cameron complains about too many immigrants, he also has in mind immigrants from the East European countries, including the great number of Hungarians in Great Britain.

The Orbán formula seems to be: we will send our economic migrants to Western Europe while we will not allow anyone into our country because we want to keep Hungary Hungarian.  As for the Hungarian Roma, Western Europe can take care of them. A perfect solution all around.


  1. Beats me why anyone would want to emigrate to Hungary, when there are so much richer and more pleasant pickings available just a few kilometers West.

    Thus, Orbán’s rhetoric seems to belabour a non-issue in the Hungarian context. As to the proffered solution to the “Gypsy-problem” by Szájer, that of course is a Hungarian wet dream, though unfortunately a case of totally delusional wishful thinking that has no legs whatsoever – se füle se farka.

    What is clear, however, is that as usual, Orbán’s intends to have his cake and eat it too on this issue, as well as on all other matters pertaining to EU membership and policies.

    And he certainly will have his cake and eat it too, as long as the EU lets him.

    Pofátlan tahó.

  2. “Hungary is not an attractive country for immigrants, but without immigrants an aging society that cannot reproduce itself is doomed.”

    As an immigrant to Hungary myself, I can say that I’ve done my part to help reverse this trend 🙂

    But otherwise this is a very true statement. I recently saw a forecast that Hungary can expect to lose 1 million people in the next 30 years due to demographic trends. If true, that would be pretty bad for the country. Immigration probably wouldn’t be able to completely turn that around, but at least it might mitigate it somewhat.

  3. OT: Rogan is pushing back. There is no way he will go to jail, ever.

    He enriched himself, he caused billions of damages to the public but the lawyers on his side (and that fact that he involved the szocis). Rogan is here to stay, one of Orban’s most trusted underlings. Plus the best friend of Habony.

    He can steal as much as he wants and he will be with us as a politician for decades to come.

  4. According to Népszabadság it was Klaus Mangold who negotiated on behalf of Orban with the Russians re Paks. Mangold works for Rotschild which was known to be advising Orban on the deal and he’s been an honorary consul for Russia in Baden Württemberg for 10 years.

    The Népszabi article also makes it clear that Merkel endorses and likes Orban, the wishful thinking among liberals that Merkel would get tougher is dismissed as totally surreal. I have no doubt that this is so and that Merkel indeed likes to work together with Mr. Orban. The Germans want to keep selling their widgets, why would they cede Siemens’ Hungarian market to, say, Alstom? They won’t.

    Naïve people still have too much faith in Ms. Merkel, when in fact she has proved it time and again that she will not get tough with anybody, that’s just not her style. She is thoroughly German, and Germans are incapable of acting decisively and tough.

    – See! That’s why Viktor Orban holds the standard of living so low, so terrorists have no mood to move here! Smart and precious man!
    – God bless him!

    Let’s include two topics:
    1) Anyone can buy Hungarian citizenship, which of course means EU citizenship, by purchasing bonds:

    2) Anyone can get Hungarian citizenship through a simplified procedure:
    “This new regulation has simplified the procedure and reduced the administrative bur-
    den. Every non-Hungarian citizen is eligible for preferential naturalisation if
    – he or any of his ancestors was a Hungarian citizen or if he serves reason to believe
    his or her origin is from Hungary,
    – he proves his knowledge of the Hungarian language,
    […]” Source:
    Is there any possibility of corruption?
    The texts are parts of the oath of allegiance to Hungary. Note: the name part is written in Cyrillic.

  6. This is Orbán’s latest and greatest red herring. He’s just trying the people’s mind off real problems – such as starving Hungarian children, etc

  7. “She is thoroughly German, and Germans are incapable of acting decisively and tough”


  8. buddy
    January 18, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    Hi Buddy,

    I am really fascinated to read that you emigrated to Hungary and decided to settle there for good, and would be most interested to hear a bit more about the story of your migrant experiences in Hungary.

    What motivated you to emigrate to Hungary? When did you arrive in Hungary as an immigrant? How do you find Hungary as a place to live in? Are you a native speaker of Hungarian or have learnt/are learning the language since you got there?

    Thanks in anticipation,



  9. Ms Balogh, this was a nice and plausible analysis, in my opinion. Thank you.
    Udo, please leave out that last sentence and we will forget it (it being unfounded, useless and rather insulting)
    And Buddy, I. too, am curious! I am just a tourist there, about 4 times a year, and a lousy speaker of Hungarian.

  10. @D7 Democrat

    Apart from the fact that this isn’t racism, why I am not right?

    When did Germany or German politicians act decisively in the last close to 20 years (since the Kohl era or rather the end of the Cold War) in any international or European matter or even domestic issue, for that matter? Why did Ms. Nuland say famously: f**k the EU?

    Of course, I was exaggerating on purpose, but isn’t the basic contention right?

    You know it is, but apparently many including you refuse to face this fact, I dunno, out of respect towards a mythical Europe. These mythically powerful and influential EU and EU member states just don’t exist and never have since at least 1990.

    The power of the EU lies in the power granted by its members from time to time and Hungary under Orban doesn’t grant power and influence to the EU (though the EU has the right to pay and shut up). It’s like the power of a king which is not inherent, but lies in the people who accept a random individual as the sovereign. Lacan famously said that that the madman who believes himself to be king is no more mad than the king who believes himself to be king. The EU believed that it was powerful and Orban called this bluff.

    Orban turned to Russia partly because Russia finances him and his crime family, but also because by financing him Russia – in a perverse way – made it evident that it deeply cared about Hungary. That Russia had plans with Hungary for the long run. Meanwhile the French, German, Dutch, British etc. politicians couldn’t care less about Eastern Europe as such (they are financing these countries, but they anyway did pay into the EU budget prior to the 2004 accession too and they also gained markets), apparently it is the far away US that does passionately (at least some).

    Orban and Putin don’t refuse to face reality, and they can play these supposedly respectable European politicians and businesspeople for hire to prolong their power for ever.

  11. My wife is Hungarian and has lived in England for the past 11 years. We have two bilingual children and are debating whether to return to Hungary. I wonder if Oban or the system will change enough to encourage those who have emigrated to return?

  12. Some muslims in Hungary are now being cited for fraud: I would think there are few of them and the ones cited appear to be ethnic Hungarians who have converted. Surely the government doesn’t have to search Eastern Hungary to find fraud?

  13. As much as I agree with Éva, most of the commentaries seem to be crackerbarrel.

    I am surprised to see Merkel, for whom I – as a German – have a very low respect, visit Hungary. And I am curious to hear what she has to say.

    My Hungarian girlfriend and I have constant discussions about Hungary. We agree that Orbán is going to drive Hungary against the wall. But she thinks that this will happen soon, while I estimate Orbán has still a lot of mileage – given the way he organised his regime so that he cannot be unseated in a democratic way and given the phlegm of most Hungarians (who don’t live and demonstrate in Budapest).

  14. Udo,
    Racism is when you ascribe one negative characteristic to whole group of people and that is exactly what you have done.

    With regards the rest of your “analysis” I don’t debate with racists, simple as that- why don’t you try a go a, plenty of them there will welcome you.

  15. @Mike Balint

    Well, I would consider myself part of a wave of young, partially-bohemian, partially-opportunistic, people from mostly-Western countries with no Hungarian roots or knowledge of the language who arrived to Hungary following the Cold War in the early 90s, looking for adventure and an interesting place to live. Maybe we were also looking for something we couldn’t find in our home countries. (Of course this group of people also included many who did have Hungarian roots and language knowledge, who had different motives and interests.)

    Hungary, and especially Budapest, was very, very different back then, there was a palpable sense of opportunity and upward movement. Even if it wasn’t exactly Paris in the ’20s, there was definitely something interesting going on here back then. All that is gone now, of course. (The novel Prague by Arthur Phillips gives an excellent account of what that scene like was like and why people from Western countries came here at that time, as the author himself was also part of this wave.)

    Most of the people from this wave of foreigners drifted away long ago, but a certain percentage of us simply never left Hungary. We learned the language, became accustomed to life here, started families and so on. I don’t know if any of us actually planned it this way, as I certainly didn’t, but many of us just settled down here as the place where we live. Pretty much all of my friends are from that group and have been here for quite a long time.

    I would guess that this is still happening now to some extent, but I can’t imagine that Budapest holds the same appeal for someone from a Western country to live in long term as it once did. Incidentally, I don’t think any of us from that time expected Hungary to turn into Austria within 20 years’ time, but I’m sure nobody believed that Hungary would turn out the way it has. It’s certainly been a disappointment for me, especially when this country had so much promise. Maybe things will eventually turn around, but it will take longer than I and others expected.

    Hope that answers your questions!

  16. buddy
    January 20, 2015 at 2:31 am

    Wow! Thank you very much, Buddy! Very enlightening and much appreciated. 😊

  17. @D7 Democrat

    Racism has to do with race. Not just with any group of people. By the way, I never said the Germans’ lack of decisiveness and toughness had to do with genetics. But that’s their political culture and reason for that is obvious. So you don’t have to argue, because you know I’m right. That’s enough for me.

  18. Unfortunately, I cannot leave a reply under the “TWO NARRATIVES OF THE IMPENDING BUDAPEST VISIT OF ANGELA MERKEL” article. But I think Eva is right. Ever since the South Stream was cancelled they need a new edge. This is the edge.

  19. @Isaura

    How about this one?

    Does she look like someone who is going to get tough with the government, maybe extend the travel ban to more corrupt figures? Or does it look like someone who just plans on having a fun time here, be accommodating to the government, maybe even reverse the travel ban already in place?

  20. You shouldn’t underestimate women in politics – even when they smile they can be very hard headed, that goes for Mrs Bell and especially Mrs Merkel!

    Of course I can’t say what our German government is really planning but I know that Mrs Merkel has never been a friend of the KGB and Putin after her experience in the “communist” GDR.

    So I think that she also is no friend of Orbán and his climbing up Putin’s behind. The idea of a three way alliance between Germany, Hungary and Russia is totally crazy! Merkel like most Germans (at least the sane ones – don’t consider the Pegida loonies …) totally believes in the development of the EU!

    Of course there is a small probability that I might be wrong – but that would be the biggest disappointment in my life …

  21. As the demoted shadow foreign affairs person Mr. Pröhle said Ms. Bell has four children and Ms. Szemerkenyi, who is set to be the new ambassador in DC also has four children. So the two lovely ladies will have a lot of common topics to talk about (I guess they can exchange recipes too) and together will engineer a reset in the relations. So no worries.

  22. I have no idea what happened that we can’t comment on the latest post. I have been watching with a certain alarm that WordPress is changing its format. That always means all sorts of problems.

  23. In relation to Teca’s post. Colleen Bradley Bell the new US ambassador has shown up in Budapest. But I am curious when will Reka Szemerkényi show up in Washington as Hungary’s ambassador to the United States. This question was posed in an interesting article today see

    But even more interesting to me is Orban’s selection of Reka Szemerkényi who has very deep ties to NATO and the US security establishment even though she has been part of the Fidesz for a long time. Her academic work on Hungarian military matters has long been reviewed and taken seriously by military post graduate researchers here in the USA. She also worked at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London which has ties to US security information. She is considered an expert on the Hungarian intelligence services. Moreover, she has almost no academic ties to the Russian Federation. While she has ties to the MOL Group and possibly the usual cash flow of Fidesz supporters she also has credentials of an Atlanticist.

    Even while working for the MOL group she gave presentations as late as 2011 calling for grater energy independence from Putin’s Russia. (Speech at John Hopkins conference Center for Transatlantic Relations May 2011). Given the eastern orientation of Orban this appointment seems odd.

    Do any readers of this blog know more about this?

  24. @Istvan

    1. MOL’s management (at least part of it; e.g. as many MET people fill posts inside MOL too) directly and personally has been benefitting from deals with Russians. That’s a fact that should never be out of our minds. MOL, in addition, is a huge supporter of Fidesz — in many ways.

    2. When Ms. Szemerkenyi’s name appeared then the title of an article (which is still the one of the first ones to come up after googling her name) was “It’s like as if Orban himself would be sent to DC”.

    Now, we know that Orban changed course or rather, for a long time he fooled the US that he was pro-Western. Orban is now a believer of the Dugin-Tellér line of anti-liberal, anti-Western quasi-religion. No amount of US soft power will be able to turn him into an atlanticist (a word which inside the right-wing media now equals to jewish foreigner intent on destroying Hungary). (Come to thing of it Putin was also hailed as a democrat, a reformer, our friend, a modernizer, a westernizer etc. for years by the New York Times, BBC etc. even before W looked into his eyes or Obama wanted to reset things with him).

    I confess I don’t know the lady, but my impression from the available google info is that she – too, yet again – successfully fooled the American intel community. She’s lovely in person, a lady in the security world is anyway a rarity, she studied in the US, Republicans love religious people (she with the Pope), representing the “anti-communist hero”, “Oxford-educated” Viktor Orban, she surely is pro-Westerm. This must have been the argument.

    Well, things are a bit more complicated than that in Eastern-Europe as it turns out.

  25. Reka Sz. was from 1991, right after she got her liberal arts degree according to her cv, a direct staffer with the közig államititkár (administrative state secretary) at the Ministry of Defense under the Antall government until 1993. That secretary must have been Antal Annus and later Rudolf Joó (who first used to serve under Annus as his deputy). In Hungary, unlike in the UK or US it is highly unusual for a bölcsészlány (a liberl arts girl student;sorry for the implied sexism) to end up (start her career) in a ministry overseeing the military (and in such a sensitive position). She must have had a helluva recommendation from very reliable people (ie. who were reliable even prior to 1990).

    She apparently became closer to Fidesz only later, in 1997. Her first position seems to be a foreign affairs secretary post to Fidesz’ parliamentary caucus, which by now was solidly conservative and anti-liberal. At that time Orban was still the anti-communist prodigy, who was also conservative. I bet the Republicans ate his words.

    Szemerkenyi has been Orban’s most trusted foreign affairs adviser who – after Orban’s (open) pivot to Russia – is still with him.

    So the rational conclusion is that she “loves to serve” (under any circumstances) and secondly that she must have been instrumental to Orban during at least the last decade during which Orban distanced himself from the West, started to treat it with deep contempt and oriented himself towards Russia.

    And as I read it, not only she did work for MOL all along as an adviser (probably as a go between the advisee and Orban himself), but her husband as well.

  26. Re Merkel.

    It is interesting to note and actually it is quite surprising how much effort Orban’s media people put into the media coverage of the upcoming Merkel meeting, especially in those media which might be consumed by non-Fidesz leaning people.

    After Népszabadság (though which is by now in Fidesz-strohman hands, we should bear that in mind), today HVG had a long article based on a background meeting (not fact checked independently, of course) with a fidesz person about the issue.

    The point seems to be strategic leaking and preparation of the Germans i.e that, as this fidesznik person said it seems that is in the interest of Germany after all to not care about Paks and “understand Hungary” since Merkel needs Hungary’s vote. Of course Orban would love to help to Merkel, but, come to think of it, Orban has the vote power too.

    The US account is lost, it is acknowledged, but who cares about the US? They are far away, so they don’t matter.

    And the Germans? The cooperation is fantastic. Actually, if Orban used Herr Professor Dr. Dr. Klaus Mangold, Mag. for the Russians, Orban may have other Germans on his payroll to help smooth those ways. Orban’s goal is to remain under the radar since Merkel is anyway disinclined to act and has her plate full. This isn’t a big exercise for Orban and his helpers.

  27. All of your comments were helpful in gaining insight into Dr. Reka Szemerkényi. Assuming Dr. Szemerkényi fully or largely supports PM Orban’s eastern opening perspectives I suspect she would fully reinforce the political perspectives of the American Hungarian Federation/ American Hungarian Coalition on the foreign policy evolution of the Hungarian government ( see ) which is to act as if there has been no movement towards the perspectives of Putin on the part of PM Orban’s government.

    The AHC held its annual meeting on December 6th in Washington DC at which AHC President Maximilian Teleki is reported to have given “an impassioned speech, Mr. Teleki addressed the inflammatory remarks made by Senator John McCain regarding Hungary and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Quoting New York Times reporter David Adelmann, that politicians and governmental bodies are not reliable sources to determine whether or not human rights are violated, Mr. Teleki agreed that the real test is to ask those people directly affected in any human rights situation. Accordingly, the US does not have a right to overrule a democratic process and the will of the people directly affected. It needs to accept that in free and fair elections on three occasions in the past year, the Hungarian electorate voted overwhelmingly to support the current government.”

    The AHC also indicated that one their areas “of particular concern included latest developments on the renationalization of the Székely Mikó High School in Romania which was rightfully returned in 2000 to the Hungarian Reformed Church; and the fate of Mr. Attila Markó and Mr. Tamás Marosan, the former officials of the .Special Committee on Church Property Restitution who were convicted to three year suspended prison sentences for their role in restoring the property to the rightful owner.” Apparently there was no concern over charges that American firms in Hungary were being shook down by Hungarian officials, or that NGO’s were being investigated the Hungarian state.

    I think given the background of Dr. Szemerkényi she will provide Orban supporters in my community with exactly the arguments they want to hear. The Hungarian government isn’t pro-Russian, its acting in the best interest of the west, NATO, and the EU by engaging Putin and helping him correct the errors of his ways. As my grandfather would have said – Sirva vigad a Magyar.

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