The curious case of Hungary: why the naturalisation rate does not always show how inclusive a country is

By Judit Tóth, GLOBALCIT country expert

The ‘naturalisation rate’ is a commonly used indicator to measure the ratio of the number of persons acquiring citizenship of a country over the stock of non-national population in a country; as such, it is often used to measure the relative inclusiveness of a country’s naturalisation policy. According to Eurostat statistics, in Hungary the average naturalisation rates in the period 2011-15 was 7.8 percent, one of the highest rates reported in the European Union.[1] While this high rate reflects the fact that between 2011 and 2017 around one million persons acquired Hungarian citizenship through naturalisation, remarkably few of the newly-naturalised actually reside in Hungary. This results from the possibilities offered by a 2010 amendment of the Act on Hungarian Nationality aimed at persons of Hungarian descent residing outside Hungary. It is therefore highly problematic, if not misleading, to use the naturalisation rate as an indicator for the political inclusiveness of Hungary’s ordinary naturalisation policy for immigrants. If anything, the high rate reflects Hungary’s expansive diaspora inclusion agenda. This contribution interprets recent statistics about citizenship acquisition, as well as the loss of citizenship, in Hungary in light of the broader legal, demographic and political context.   


The 2010 amendment of the Hungarian Nationality Act

Under Hungarian citizenship law, citizenship can be acquired in a number of ways through ordinary or facilitated naturalisation (see Kovacs and Toth 2013: 4-6). First, a non-Hungarian citizen may be naturalised upon request if the applicant has resided in Hungary continuously over a period of eight years prior to the submission of the application; according to Hungarian laws s/he must have a clean criminal record and not be indicted in any criminal proceedings before a Hungarian court; s/he must have sufficient means of subsistence and a place of abode (accommodation) in Hungary; his/her naturalisation must not be considered to be a threat to the public order and national security of Hungary; and s/he must have passed the examination in basic constitutional studies in the Hungarian language, unless s/he is exempted. Second, facilitated naturalisation after three years residence is available for a person who (i) has lived in lawful marriage in the household of a Hungarian citizen for at least three years, or in such a marriage that has been terminated upon the spouse’s death; (ii) has a minor child who is a Hungarian citizen; (iii) has been adopted by a Hungarian citizen; (iv) has been recognised as a refugee by the competent Hungarian authority, or (v) is stateless. Moreover, a non-Hungarian citizen who has resided in Hungary continuously for at least five years prior to the date of submission of the application meeting all above-mentioned criteria may be naturalised upon request, if he/she was born in the territory of Hungary, and had established residence in Hungary before reaching the age of majority.  Third, an amendment of the Hungarian Nationality Act adopted in 2010, which entered into force in 2011, allows non-residents of Hungarian ancestry to apply for Hungarian nationality. All applicants need is a basic command of the language and Hungarian ancestry, unless a person is exempted because of his/her legal incapacity or limited capacity. Applicants for Hungarian passports must prove that they have ancestors ‘who were Hungarian or lived on the territory of ex-Hungary and can prove it by death or birth certificates’ (see Kovacs and Toth 2013: 4). The law also allows those to acquire Hungarian citizenship who have been lawfully married to a Hungarian citizens and have lived for 10 years in the same household at the time of submission; the ten year period is shortened to 5 years if they have a child. However, the vague language requirement, which states simply that you ‘know the language’, is open to abuse (Pogonyi 2013: 3). There is no exam or standardised list of questions, so it is up to busy clerks in offices around Serbia and Hungary to assess language skills during a brief meeting.

Finally, there is the option to reacquire Hungarian citizenship. Upon request, a person whose Hungarian citizenship was terminated and who proves Hungarian language knowledge may be re-naturalised if s/he has a clean criminal record according to Hungarian laws, is not being indicted in any criminal proceedings before a Hungarian court and if his/her naturalisation is not considered to be a threat to the public order and national security of Hungary.


Statistics on citizenship acquisition

The benefits of applying for Hungarian citizenship through the facilitated naturalisation procedure are obvious. Most of all, Hungarian citizenship comes with EU citizenship and, with it, the right to live anywhere in the European Union. As a result, Hungarian citizenship has become an instrument to acquire an EU passport and the right of free movement in the EU among the Hungarian diaspora in neighbouring non-EU countries. For instance, thousands of Serbian residents are eligible for citizenship through this provision because the northern province of Vojvodina belonged to the Austro-Hungary Empire until 1918 when Hungary – allied with Germany – lost the First World War and was forced to hand over two-thirds of its territory. In 2013 more than 12,000 Serbians were granted Hungarian citizenships and passports. The UK Home Office admitted it had no way of monitoring how many of the new Hungarian citizens had made their way to Britain. Its spokesman said that EU migration figures did not include a breakdown by people’s country of origin.[2]

The recent census in 2011 registered 143,000 foreign-born non-nationals in Hungary (1.4 per cent of the population, compared to around 4.1 per cent in the EU). Around 70 per cent of these are ethnic Hungarians from the neighbouring (EU and non-EU) states. Two-thirds have acquired Hungarian citizenship. According to Eurostat, the naturalisation rate in Hungary was 13 per cent in 2012, compared to only 3 percent in the EU-27. In 2015, in the EU-28 and EFTA as a whole, 2.4 per cent of non-national citizens were granted citizenship on average but in Hungary in 2011-15 these were 7.8 percent.[3] However, most persons acquiring Hungarian citizenship through naturalisation do this through the preferential naturalisation procedure for co-ethnics. Within less than six years the number of preferentially naturalised persons reached 845,000 while another 155,000 applications were being processed in July 2017.[4] Before this peak the total number of naturalised and re-naturalised persons in 1994-2010 was 134,887, and the non-preferential naturalisation amounted to less than 500 persons per year.[5]

In a more general sense, according to the available data,[6] 9 per cent of applicants for naturalisation in 2011-2015 were registered as residents in Hungary while 647,000 newly naturalised persons living across the borders acquired dual citizenship. This means that a significant part of newly naturalised persons are not immigrants in Hungary and they possess another nationality: 95 percent of them have Romanian, Serbian, Slovakian or Ukrainian nationality. Moreover, the newly naturalised persons under the facilitated procedure only rarely move to Hungary: merely 54,000 have established residence (for a shorter or longer time) in Hungary after citizenship acquisition. In 2015 only 61,000 out of the 708,000 newly naturalised persons were living as registered residents in Hungary.

With regard to naturalisations by persons residing in Hungary, the numbers are much less impressive. For this group, the number evolved from 6,100 in 2010 to 20,600 (2011) and 18,400 (2012), dropping thereafter steeply to 9,200 (2013), 8,700 (2014) and 4,000 (2015). In other words, the overwhelming majority of newly naturalised persons are dual citizens without residence in Hungary, while only very few resident immigrants have acquired Hungarian citizenship.

It is difficult to assess to what extent the small number of naturalisations by the resident foreign population is due to the expansive diaspora policy or to a discretionary naturalisation policy. Our knowledge on refusal rates of naturalisation claims is limited. In 2005 it was 4.8 percent, in 2006: 4 percent, in 2007: 6.8 percent, in 2008: 7.8 percent, in 2009: 10 percent, and in 2010: 8.8 percent. The introduction of the accelerated preferential naturalisation seems, however, to have affected the refusal rate of traditional, residence-based naturalisation for applicants: it was 87 percent in 2011, and 114 percent in 2012-2013 in the statistics of the Office of Immigration and Nationality Affairs (OIN). Moreover, in 2014-2015 about 100 residence-based grants of naturalisation compared to 114 denied applications. Looking at the original citizenship of the refused applicants in 2011-2012, we see that 38 percent of them were Romanian, 36 percent Ukrainian and 17 percent Serbian citizens. There was one published case in which the reason for rejection was stated: the applicant had submitted manipulated identity document. Forged USSR, Yugoslav or Czechoslovak documents may have been used also in other cases.[7] However, the rate of refusal in accelerated naturalisation process has been below 4 percent, 23,000 refused cases compared to 850,000 positive decisions are really marginal.[8]

The same statistical data suggest that the newly naturalised populations during the period of 2011-2015 living in Hungary:

  • are less educated than the average adults in Hungary. This means that better qualified kin- minority members are not attracted to the kin-state;
  • 12 percent of these resident people were unemployed;
  • more than two-third of them were residing less than 8 years on average before naturalisation (applicants coming from Romania about 7 years, applicants from Serbia about 9-10 years). This is below the average of all applicants who have been residents for 13 years before naturalisation;
  • the high rate of ethnic Hungarians among the applicants has been stable. This can be shown indirectly because 85 percent of applications referred to ethnic preference in the application, 8.6 percent of applications were related to marriage with a Hungarian national and 8 percent were on grounds of the paternity/maternity as parent of a minor with Hungarian nationality. This trend has being continuous because in 1994-2010 about 95 percent of re/naturalised persons benefited from ethnic preferences,[9] 3 percent from family preferences and the rest belonged to the non-preferential naturalisation category.[10] Moreover, the cumulative effects of individual conditions are discriminatory.[11] Indirect discrimination is probable because certain conditions of the naturalisation procedure are based on objective, neutral requirements at first glance but statistically it can be shown that a well-defined group of applicants is mainly affected negatively.


Immigration-bonds as a ticket to naturalisation?

An easy admission route to Hungary has been opened through the purchase of immigration bonds by non-resident third country national investors. Buying the minimally required bond for 300 000 EUR together with paying further 50 000 EUR as a procedural fee they can obtain a long-term immigrant status in Hungary. The price of the immigration bond will be repaid by the state budget after 5 years, so in fact it is a loan. The third country national investor buying the bond together with family members will receive long-term resident permits to travel freely in the EU. These are the two major attractions of the bond.

Within less than four years (2012-2016) this provision has resulted in 890 million EUR contributions to the Treasury and 3 490 long-term (settlement) permission owners with 6 148 family members from China (85 per cent), from Russia (7 per cent) and from other third countries (Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Ukraine).[12] Until the end of June 2017 the total number of issued long-term migrant permissions – including the family members – were 16 000. Taking into account the pending cases, the final number of third country nationals in this scheme should be more than 20 000. But not all of them are applying for residence authorisation in Hungary.[13] If they have a registered address in Hungary there is a basis for a later naturalisation claim.


Rising numbers of citizenship withdrawal

The involuntary loss of acquired Hungarian citizenship is rare but increasing. There was no withdrawal of citizenship in 1993-2012 according to OIN statistics. After the accelerated naturalisation was introduced this statistics changed. In 2013-2014 the number of withdrawals was 4, in 2015 it was 61, in 2016 it was 62, in 2017 (20 Oct) it was 16. Among these 143 persons you can find 18 minors (at the age of 4-16). 48 persons applied with Yugoslavian/Serbian, 79 persons with Soviet/Russian/Ukraine documents and 15 persons with Romanian documents. Beyond the published withdrawal decisions by the State President numerous news on corruption and other criminal cases in naturalisation procedures have been revealed, and trials concerning the naturalisation process have been launched.[14] For instance, the police started criminal investigations against at least against eight officials for receiving bribes from applicants and for forging documents. Another official received 700 EUR for a naturalisation application, while three non-Hungarian speaking persons were arrested in the middle of a naturalisation oath ceremony for corruption together with the mayor and clerks in the Eastern region of Hungary. The Ukraine mafia established business contacts for accelerated naturalisation using middlemen for a price of 50 000 to 30 000 EUR in application procedures, although in Ukraine the law foresees the loss of Ukraine citizenship in case of voluntary accession of another citizenship.[15]

The only fully published case concerns an abusive claim and incompetent checking. The Official Journal (Magyar Közlöny) published the first withdrawal of citizenship from Mr. Jenő Lackó. His Hungarian nationality was obtained through the preferential accelerated naturalisation. He was misleading the processing authority providing them false data about his identity (name and birth data). Thus the Minister of the Interior proposed withdrawal of his Hungarian citizenship to the President. Mr. Lackó’s abusive conduct was revealed after he had taken his citizenship oath. The withdrawal decision entered into force on the day of its publication, the Hungarian citizenship ceased on the same day not affecting the original (Ukrainian) citizenship. The press release of the Office of the President contains no explanations of the decision, so the press investigated how the upgraded speed of naturalisation proceedings contributed to public security risks. Due to time pressure on the authorities a scrutiny at individual level was missing. According to the official explanation this withdrawal is based on Art 4 and Art 9 of the Act on Nationality.[16] This means that either security requirements (clean criminal record, not endangering admission) had not been met or the applicants’ Hungarian language knowledge, Hungarian ancestors had been manipulated.

The increasing number of withdrawals can be explained by the fact that too many naturalisation claims were received in a short time and this was not matched by the number of administrators, documentary experts and the number of staff able to verify Hungarian language skills. However, this was hardly a coincidence, since the purpose of the amendment of the law is clearly to increase the number of new Hungarian citizens who do not want to settle in Hungary, but who are grateful for their second citizenship and willing to support the ruling power that has modified the Act on Hungarian Nationality and has introduced voting rights for the Hungarian diaspora in the near abroad.



[1], see Figure 5 [last accessed 1 October 2017].

[3] (1 Oct 2017)

[4] Magyar Nemzet, 2017, Aug. 23. Most már nem sláger a magyar állampolgárság

[5] Gödri I. (2015) Nemzetközi vándorlás. In Demográfiai Portré 2015, Monostori J., Őri P., Spéder Zs. (szerk.) KSH NKI Budapest, p.187-211

[6] Új magyar állampolgárok. Változások az egyszerűsített honosítási eljárás bevezetése után. KSH, Budapest, pp.64

[7] Data from the HVG, 4 April 2013

[8] Data from Index, 8 July 2016

[9] An ethnic applicant may be naturalised if s/he resides in Hungary (at least for one year prior to submission of the application that was deleted in 2005) with a registered address as long-term migrant (permanent residence permit with registered address), self-subsistence and accommodation is provided for him/her (together with his/her family), s/he has a clean criminal record and his/her naturalisation does not violate the state interests, and s/he declares him/herself as ethnic Hungarian with an ancestor that was a former Hungarian citizen.

[10] Örkény, A. – Székelyi M. (szerk.) (2010) Az idegen Magyarország – a bevándorlók integrációja. Budapest, MTA NKI – Eötvös Kiadó

[11] Tóth, J. and Körtvélyesi, Zs. (2011): Naturalisation in Hungary: Exclusion by Ethnic Preferences. Open Citizenship, Vol. 2 Summer ’Exclusion and Discrimination”, pp.54-73. Berlin

[12] Data from the minister of the interior and president of Tax Authority, (25 April 2016)

[13] Magyar Nemzet, July 18, 2017

[14] For instance, HVG (24 April, 2013), Index (16 September 2014 and 17 September 2014)

[15] Corruption cases in accelerated naturalisation were released in press, e.g. bribery for accepted naturalisation application was 700 EUR, HVG Jan 9, 2014, The non-speakers’ story see Thorpe, N.: Hungary creating new mass of EU citizens, BBC, Nov 7, 2013, Subotica; MTI April 11, 2015, MTI, May 13, 2015, MTI Jan 9, 2014, MTI, Nov 5, 2014, HVG, Sept 6 2014. The method of abusive cases are analysed in Népszava, 15 July 2013.

[16] Magyar Közlöny 13 July 2013, Resolution of the State President No 339 of 2013, and MTI, 29 Sept 2015.


Also see our earlier news item “One million citizenships on grounds of ethnic kinship in Hungary“.