The United States of America has decided to reduce the ESTA validity period with 1 year for travellers with a Hungarian passport. This decision has already entered into force 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 added to the Visa Waiver Program in 2008, alongside of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic / Czechia and South Korea. Since then, travellers with a Hungarian passport who comply with ESTA requirements, can travel to the United States without having to apply for a visa. This is because travellers with the nationality of a Visa Waiver Program country, can submit an ESTA USA application for US travel.
American criticism of Hungarian citizenship policy
The US has criticised the way that Hungary grants Hungarian citizenship to foreign nationals for many years now. As of 2011, those who live outside the country and are of Hungarian descent, can fairly easily obtain a Hungarian passport. Even when the applicant has never lived in Hungary. To apply for such a passport, these applicants need to demonstrate that they speak Hungarian and have ancestors from the country. Until the end of December 2019, a near 1 million applicants have obtained a Hungarian passport this way. Most of these applicants were from the neighbouring countries Romania, Serbia, and Ukraine.
This arrangement has also received critique from a number of other countries. This is because with a Hungarian passport, it is allowed to travel to any of the other EU countries and/or to remain there indefinitely. The United States has been one of the greatest critics, as the US had already entered into the agreement for mutual visa-free travel between the two countries with Hungary several years earlier. This means that anyone, who has obtained a Hungarian passport through the simplified procedure, can easily use it for an ESTA application, and use this permit for travel to the United States. For the US, this constitutes a security risk.
2021: Stricter ESTA requirements for Hungarian nationals
Over the years from 2011, it was regularly discovered that obtaining a Hungarian passport through fraudulent action was possible, as passport application checks based on Hungarian descent proved inadequate. This means that many applicants, which should not have been deemed eligible for it, could still obtain the Hungarian passport. Because of this, in 2021 the United States decided to exclude Hungarian passport holders from ESTA travel if they were born in a different country. Even before this, and as of 2017, Hungary’s country status for the US Visa Waiver, was already reduced to ‘provisional member’ of this program.
Validity term of the ESTA USA reduced
According to the United Stated, Hungary has done too little to solve the issues surrounding its (relatively) new naturalisation procedure. Because there is no real prospect of improvement in the matter, the US has decided to reduce the ESTA validity period for Hungarian travellers. Whoever submits the ESTA application with a Hungarian passport, as of August 1, 2023, will be issued a permit to travel with a validity period of 1 year, instead of the usual maximum of 2 years. Moreover, Hungarian passport holders may now 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 has disclosed that it will not rule out instating even stricter visa policy measures when it comes to Hungary. Recently, the American Department of Homeland Security even issued a statement stating that excluding Hungary from the VWP altogether is still an option as long as the country will not start to check requests for naturalisation with more scrutiny. This is because the US regards Hungary’s current naturalisation policy as a breach of Visa Waiver Program terms, upon which ESTA access to the US was granted to this country’s nationals in the first place. If Hungary should decide not to take any such action, it could very well be that Hungarians would no longer be eligible for the ESTA USA in the future.