BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) – The United States imposed new travel restrictions on citizens of Hungary on Tuesday over concerns that the identities of nearly 1 million foreigners granted Hungarian passports over nine years were not sufficiently verified, according to the U.S. Embassy and a government official.
The restrictions apply to the US Visa Waiver Program, which allows passport holders from 40 countries to enter the US for business or tourism without a visa for up to 90 days.
The validity period for travel for Hungarian passport holders under the Electronic Travel Authorization System was reduced from two years to one year, and each traveler will be limited to a single entry into the United States. They are the only such restrictions among the 40 participating states in the Visa Waiver Program.
A senior US official said the change followed years of failed efforts by the US to work with Hungary’s government to resolve security concerns. The official spoke anonymously to candidly characterize diplomatic engagements.
Hundreds of thousands of Hungarian passports were issued without strict identity verification requirements, some of them to criminals who pose a security threat and have no connection to Hungary, the official said.
The government of Hungary, under the leadership of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, began in 2011 to offer a simplified naturalization procedure to those who claim Hungarian descent, even if they did not live or intend to live in Hungary.
Hundreds of thousands of the at least 2 million ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries – primarily in Romania, Serbia and Ukraine – were granted Hungarian citizenship through the simplified procedure.
Critics said the program allowed non-taxpaying ethnic Hungarians living in other countries to vote in Hungarian elections, giving Orban’s ruling Fidesz party an electoral advantage.
The US previously recategorized Hungary as a provisional member of the Visa Waiver Program due to the concerns.
Hungary’s government responded to the restrictions on Tuesday in a statement from the Interior Ministry.
The statement said that the United States had demanded personal data from ethnic Hungarians abroad with dual citizenship, and that the government of Hungary was unwilling to provide this information to protect the security of these citizens.
“This is why President Joe Biden’s administration is now retaliating against the Hungarians,” the statement said.