- 8 Aug 2023 12:58 PM
On Tuesday, the US Embassy announced that the validity period offered to Hungarians under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) will be reduced from two years to one and that only single visits will be allowed instead of multiple ones.
Hungary granted citizenship to about one million people between 2011 and 2020, but the US Embassy argued that the Hungarian authorities did so ‘without adequate security measures in place to verify their identities’. In a statement to the MTI news agency, the Hungarian Interior Ministry attributed the travel restrictions to Hungary’s refusal to hand over to the United States the data of citizens of neighbouring countries who have been granted Hungarian citizenship.
‘The safety of Hungarians in neighbouring countries is at stake, the Ministry argued, therefore that data will not be forwarded to anyone’.
In Magyar Nemzet, Zsolt Bayer suspects that the United States would have transferred the data of ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine with Hungarian citizenship to the Ukrainian authorities who could have clamped down on them, given that Ukraine doesn’t allow dual citizenship.
He fulminates at the US administration which apparently considers such ethnic Hungarians a security threat, ‘unlike the masses of illegal immigrants from Central America’.
In Népszava, on the other hand, Gábor Horváth takes the visa waiver restriction as a symbolic gesture by the United States to caution Hungary against continuing to ‘sabotage’ US efforts on the international scene, including most recently, postponing the approval of Sweden’s accession to NATO. If nothing changes, he writes, Hungary ‘may very swiftly find herself in very big trouble’.
In a separate Népszava column, András Rostoványi finds some inconsistency in the American position, remarking that Hungarian citizens born abroad were already barred from the visa waiver program last year.
Otherwise, quoting former Foreign Minister Géza Jeszenszky, he writes that the new restrictions are aimed at the Hungarian government, rather than at ordinary Hungarians.
Further comments on US visa waiver restrictions
Although the new restriction on visa-free travel to the United States is largely symbolic, the issue has stirred strong emotional reactions in the Hungarian media.
On ATV News, travel writer Róbert Richárd Kiss remarks that the changes do not seriously harm Hungarians, as even if they wish to travel to the United States several times a year, they just have to fill in the ESTA form online each time.
‘That’s nothing like being interviewed when asking for entry visas’, he added. On the same programme, liberal foreign policy expert István Szent-Iványi believes that despite official statements to the contrary, the measure was, in reality, a warning to the Hungarian government which, in his words, roots for China instead of siding with America.
More serious consequences may follow if the government doesn’t change direction, he adds.
In a second Magyar Nemzet editorial on the issue in as many days, László Szentesi Zöldi believes the United States just found a pretext to cause inconvenience to Hungarians.
The real threats to US security, he writes, are homeborn: violent attacks perpetrated by fascist, Islamist and violent woke groups as well as regular school shootings.
In an angry column on the Mandiner website, Szilárd Demeter, a writer in charge of the Petőfi Museum of Literature who was born in Transylvania, thinks the visa-waiver restrictions were motivated by hostile feelings towards Hungary’s policy of support to ethnic Hungarians communities in neighbouring countries.
He accuses the United States of supporting the forcible assimilation of those Hungarians by local authorities.
Fears of further US travel restrictions
After a series of fierce reactions to the decision by US authorities to restrict the validity of visa-free travel by Hungarian citizens to the United States, observers fear that Hungary might be excluded from the US visa-waiver program altogether.
On Piac és Profit, editor János Hollós quotes an unnamed government source who interprets the restrictions announced by the United States on Tuesday as a last warning.
The veteran business reporter describes the measure of tightening visa-free entry to one journey over one year as a humiliating one for Hungary. He warns that the next step could be excluding the country from the visa-waiver system offered to 40 countries.
On Hirklikk, Zsuzsa N Vadász reports that there are no more available dates this year for visa seekers on the webpage of the US Embassy in Budapest. She believes that frequent visitors must have tried to get visas fearing further restrictions.
On the Szabad Európa webmagazine, András Kósa hopes that an agreement can be reached by the two sides to avoid further restrictions. Negotiations have been underway, he writes, and a compromise was on the horizon before the restrictions were announced on Tuesday.
The Hungarian side refused to hand over to the US the full data of all naturalized Hungarians who are also citizens of neighbouring countries but offered to immediately transfer all available information on any individual cases if requested by the US immigration authorities.
He hopes such a compromise may help avoid further tightening of US visa-waiver rules for Hungarians.
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