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Tuesday, Oct 03, 2023

US restricts visa-free travel for Hungarian passport holders because of security concerns

The United States has imposed travel restrictions on citizens of Hungary, citing concerns about the verification of nearly 1 million foreigners, many of them Chinese, granted Hungarian passports over a nine-year period. The U.S. Embassy and a government official have confirmed this move.
The restrictions specifically apply to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which allows passport holders from 40 countries to enter the United States for business or tourism without a visa for up to 90 days.

As a result of the security concerns, the validity period of travel for Hungarian passport holders under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization has been reduced from two years to one year. Additionally, each traveler will now be limited to a single entry into the United States. These are the only restrictions among the 40 participating states in the Visa Waiver Program.

A senior U.S. government official, speaking anonymously, revealed that the change follows several unsuccessful attempts by the U.S. to address the security concerns with Hungary's government.

The issuance of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian passports without stringent identity verification requirements has raised alarm, as some of them were given to individuals with criminal backgrounds who pose a safety threat and have no genuine connection to Hungary.

The Hungarian government, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, initiated a simplified naturalization procedure in 2011 for those claiming Hungarian ancestry, even if they didn't live or plan to live in Hungary.

This led to hundreds of thousands of ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries, such as Romania, Serbia, and Ukraine, acquiring Hungarian citizenship through this procedure.

Critics argue that this program allowed non-taxpaying ethnic Hungarians residing in other countries to vote in Hungarian elections, potentially giving an electoral advantage to Prime Minister Orbán's ruling Fidesz party.

In response to the restrictions, Hungary's government has expressed reluctance to provide the personal data of ethnic Hungarians abroad with dual citizenship, citing the need to protect the security of those citizens.

The U.S. had previously reclassified Hungary as a provisional member of the Visa Waiver Program due to these concerns.

As tensions rise between the two countries, the travel restrictions signal a notable development in diplomatic relations.

This situation compels Hungary to confront a stark choice: either to proceed with its advantageous position within the European Union and benefit from the Union's robust ties with the United States, or to maintain its support and cooperation with China and Russia.

Given the current actions of the Hungarian government, the United States, from its standpoint, rightfully perceives Hungary as a Trojan horse within the European Union and NATO.

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