Photo Credit: Photo credit: Markus Winkler
Hungary's Visa-free Travel to the United States is Now Restricted
Hungary is the latest nation entangled with changes to the United States Visa Waiver Program. The U.S. imposed new restrictions on central European country after nearly a million Hungarian passports were issued without proper verification.
Former President George W. Bush invited Hungary to join the Visa Waiver Program in 2008. Currently, the program includes 40 countries, which allows U.S. citizens to travel to their countries visa-free in exchange for reciprocity. However, political dealings in Hungary have put a damper on the free travel of their citizens to the states.
Passports Issued Without Proper Verification
According to AP, Hungary was flagged for failing to properly verify a million passport holders. A US official said this included criminals who did not reside in Hungary and posed safety threats.
Critics blame the issue on the simplified citizenship process Hungary launched in 2011. The new protocol allowed Hungarians living in surrounding countries to obtain naturalization. Many question if the process was a ploy to gain votes needed for Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s ascent to power.
“There’s a systemic problem, which is hundreds of thousands of passports were issued between 2011 and 2020 without identity verification requirements in place,” a senior US government official told Reuters.
In 2022, the US began rejecting the ESTA pre-travel verification applications for Hungarians who were not citizens, according to Investment Migration Insider.
“The naturalization process for people of Hungarian descent in neighboring countries led to identity management vulnerabilities,” the US Embassy said in a statement. “These vulnerabilities have allowed criminals and fraudsters to obtain valid Hungarian passports. Since the problem was identified, the United States and Hungary have been working together to mitigate these border security threats.”
Another Change in the Visa Waiver Program
To lessen the risk of criminals entering the US, Hungary will adhere to new restrictions for citizens traveling to America. Instead of Hungarian passports lasting two years, the new changes will cause them to expire after one year. Additionally, Hungarian citizens will only be able to visit the US once per year.
Currently, Hungary is the only country in the Visa Waiver Program with provisional restrictions on its passport processes. According to AP, the Hungarian government responded to the restrictions with a statement accusing the US of asking for the personal data of Hungarians. The statement said providing the data would be a breach of Hungarian citizen security.
The new passport restrictions on Hungary comes after the US reached a reciprocity agreement with Israel. The two countries are working towards adding Israel to the Visa Waiver Program.