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USA limits visa waver for Hungarian citizens

Due to security problems in the passports issued in 2011-2020 — the States suspect that the recipients of the documents were not sufficiently checked.

USA limits visa waver for Hungarian citizens
Photo: EPA/UPG

The United States on Tuesday sharply limited Hungary’s participation in its visa waiver program over security concerns regarding new passports issued between 2011 and 2020, writes Politico.

Under the American Visa Waiver Program, citizens of participating countries can travel to the U.S. for tourism or business for up to 90 days without a visa, and simply need a so-called Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA). 

But from 1 August, ESTA validity for Hungarian passport holders will be reduced from two years to one, and an ESTA will only be valid for a single use. 

The unprecedented move, in response to security concerns, affects Hungary as the only one of 40 countries participating in the U.S. program. 

“There are hundreds of thousands of passports that have been issued by the government of Hungary as part of the simplified naturalisation program without stringent identity verification mechanisms in place,” the U.S. ambassador in Budapest David Pressman told reporters.

After coming to power in 2010, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government implemented a major policy change that granted citizenship to ethnic Hungarians abroad — including in Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine. Domestic critics say Orbán’s controversial move was designed to boost his electoral prospects.

According to Pressman, the U.S. government has been engaging the Hungarian government on this “security vulnerability” for many years and across multiple administrations, but “the government of Hungary has opted not to close” it. 

“This is a really unfortunate day. This is not the outcome the United States sought or is seeking,” Pressman added.

Washington’s move comes at a time when Hungary’s relationship with Western partners is at a low point.

Budapest’s NATO allies are deeply frustrated that Hungary’s parliament has yet to ratify Sweden’s bid to join the alliance. There are also ongoing concerns about senior Hungarian officials promoting Kremlin-style narratives at home. 

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