Great Britain

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.