The United States Embassy in Budapest announced today that Hungary’s participation in the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP) will be sharply restricted effective immediately, due to its failure to address security issues raised by the American Government.
According to the information released by the US Embassy, under new rules, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) for Hungarian passport holders will now be valid for one year, and the validity of an ESTA for Hungarians will be limited to a single entry.
Currently, the VWP program allows Hungarians to travel to the United States for tourism or business for up to 90 days without a visa, only requiring an ESTA document, which is valid for up to two years.
New restrictions are the result of a policy change implemented by the current Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, that made it much easier for ethnic Hungarians living in other countries such as Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine to obtain Hungarian citizenship.
According to the United States government, Mr. Orban’s simplified naturalization policy, described by US as a “security vulnerability,” has allowed nearly one million foreigners to obtain Hungarian citizenship between 2011 and 2020 “without adequate security measures in place to verify their identities.”
Ever since Mr. Orban’s policy had gone into effect, the United States has insisted that Hungary installed more severe identity verification mechanisms.
“Despite extensive efforts over many years by the US government to avoid this outcome and resolve longstanding security issues arising from Hungary’s simplified naturalization process, the Hungarian government has opted not to address the concerns raised in order to fully meet VWP requirements,” the embassy wrote, adding that the United States now has no choice but to tighten the Visa Waver Program rules for all Hungarian citizens.
According to the embassy’s release, the VWP changes will go into effect immediately and will remain indefinitely until US security concerns are addressed.
New VWP changes would only apply to Hungary and not the other 39 ESTA-listed countries, according to the US government officials.
Mr. Orban’s government in Budapest, visibly irked by US tightening of its Visa Waiver Program, has retorted that it will not disclose the data of Hungarians beyond its borders because “doing so would put at risk those citizens’ security.”
“This is why President Biden’s administration is taking revenge on Hungarians with the new visa waiver limit,” declared Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs.
Full text of “Important Update Effective August 1, 2023” from the official website of the United States Embassy in Hungary:
The Government of Hungary’s simplified naturalization process granted Hungarian citizenship to nearly one million people between 2011 and 2020 without adequate security measures in place to verify their identities. In light of the Government of Hungary’s decision not to fully address the security vulnerabilities created by its earlier implementation of its simplified naturalization process, procedures for all Hungarian passport holders to utilize the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) have been modified.
Today, we notified the Government of Hungary that the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) validity period for travel by Hungarian passport holders is reduced from two years to one year. Additionally, the validity of an ESTA for Hungarian passport holders will be limited to a single use.
Despite extensive efforts over many years by the U.S. government to avoid this outcome and resolve longstanding security issues arising from Hungary’s simplified naturalization process, the Hungarian government has opted not to address the concerns raised in order to fully meet VWP requirements. The VWP is a comprehensive security partnership between the United States and designated countries to protect the security of Americans and travelers to the United States.
This change will go into effect immediately and remain until the security concerns underlying it are addressed. This reduction in ESTA validity will only affect new ESTA applications received after the effective date of this notice and is not retroactive. All ESTA approvals granted prior to August 1, 2023 remain valid for two years and for multiple entries.