The United States of America has decided to reduce the ESTA validity period for travellers with a Hungarian passport by 1 year. This decision has already become effective at the beginning of August 2023. Since then, ESTAs issued to Hungarian passport holders will have a validity term limited to 1 year only.
Hungary and the US Visa Waiver Program
Hungary joined the Visa Waiver Program in 2008, alongside Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and South Korea. Since then, travellers with a Hungarian passport who comply with the ESTA requirements can travel to the United States without having to apply for a visa. This is because travellers with the nationality of a country within the Visa Waiver Program can use an ESTA USA to travel to the United States.
American criticism of Hungarian citizenship policy
The USA has been criticising the way that Hungary grants Hungarian citizenship to foreign nationals for many years. This is due to a policy that has existed since 2011 and allows individuals of Hungarian descent who live elsewhere to obtain a Hungarian passport fairly easily, even if the applicant has never lived in Hungary. To apply for the Hungarian passport, these applicants need to demonstrate that they speak Hungarian and that they have ancestors from the country. Until the end of December 2019, almost 1 million applicants have obtained a Hungarian passport this way. Most of the applicants were from the neighbouring countries Romania, Serbia, and Ukraine.
This arrangement has received critique from a number of countries. This is because a Hungarian passport allows its owner to travel to any EU country without a visa and to remain there indefinitely. The United States has been one of the greatest critics, as the USA had made an agreement about mutual visa-free travel with Hungary a few years before the introduction of the new procedure to apply for a Hungarian passport. Everyone who obtained a Hungarian passport through the simplified procedure, can use it to apply for an ESTA easily, and use this permit to travel to the United States. For the USA, this constitutes a security risk.
2021: Stricter ESTA requirements for Hungarian nationals
After 2011, there were reports that it was possible to obtain a Hungarian passport through fraudulent means. The inspections of applications which were submitted on the basis of Hungarian descent proved inadequate. As a result, ineligible persons were able to obtain the Hungarian passport. Because of this, in 2021 the United States decided to exclude Hungarian passport holders from the ESTA if they were born in a different country. Also, Hungary was officially demoted to a 'provisional member state' of the US Visa Waiver Program in 2017 already.
Validity term of the ESTA USA reduced
According to the United Stated, Hungary has done too little to solve the issues surrounding its new naturalisation procedure. Because there is no real prospect of improvement in the matter, the USA has decided to reduce the ESTA validity period for Hungarian travellers. As of 1 August 2023, Hungarian passport holders will be issued ESTAs with a validity period of only 1 year, instead of the usual maximum of 2 years. Moreover, Hungarian passport holders may only use the ESTA for only one single journey to the United States. Ordinarily, travellers may use the ESTA for an unlimited number of trips during the ESTA validity period.
Further prospects for stricter US visa policy
The United States disclosed that it is not ruling out even stricter visa policy measures when it comes to Hungary. Recently, the American Department of Homeland Security stated that excluding Hungary from the VWP altogether is an option as long as the country does not improve the security measures surrounding naturalisation requests. This is because the USA regards Hungary’s current naturalisation policy as a breach of the terms of the Visa Waiver Program terms, which grants access to the ESTA. If Hungary does not act, it is possible that Hungarians will not be eligible for the ESTA USA in the future.