The United States has imposed restrictions on Hungary’s participation in its Visa Waiver Program (VWP) due to alleged security concerns. In a statement released by the US embassy in Budapest, it was revealed that Hungary failed to address the security vulnerabilities raised by Washington.
Under the VWP, Hungarians were previously allowed to travel to the US for tourism or business for up to 90 days without a visa. They only needed an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which was valid for up to two years. However, with the new restrictions, the validity period of the ESTA for Hungarian passport holders has been reduced to one year. Additionally, the use of an ESTA for Hungarians will be limited to a single entry.
The US embassy stated that the Hungarian government’s simplified naturalization process has allowed nearly one million people to obtain Hungarian citizenship between 2011 and 2020 without adequate security measures in place to verify their identities. This process was implemented by Prime Minister Viktor Orban in 2010, making it easier for ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries to obtain Hungarian citizenship.
The US has expressed concerns about this policy, describing it as a security vulnerability. They have insisted on Hungary installing stringent identity verification mechanisms. Despite extensive efforts to resolve these security issues, the embassy claims that the Hungarian government has chosen not to address the concerns, leading to the modification of the VWP rules for all Hungarians.
The changes to the VWP will go into effect immediately and will remain in place until Washington’s security concerns are addressed. A US government official clarified that these modifications only apply to Hungary and not the other 39 participating countries in the program. The official emphasized that the decision is solely based on security concerns and not related to any other issues in US-Hungarian relations.
In response, the Hungarian government has emphasized that it will not disclose the data of Hungarians beyond its borders, as doing so would compromise their security. Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs accused the Biden administration of seeking revenge on Hungarians with the new visa waiver limit.
It is important to note that the US-Hungarian relations have been strained in recent years, particularly over issues such as rule of law, media independence, and democratic values. However, the US embassy has clarified that the visa restrictions are solely related to security concerns and should not be interpreted as a broader message regarding these contentious issues.
The imposed restrictions on Hungary’s participation in the Visa Waiver Program have immediate implications for Hungarian citizens planning to travel to the US. They will now have to reapply for an ESTA every year and will only be allowed a single entry into the United States.