The growing Hungarian emigration

In the last couple of months the Hungarian media has been full not only of stories about the immigrants arriving in Hungary from the south but also about the ever-growing number of Hungarians who are packing up and leaving the country to find a better life elsewhere. Tárki, a polling company, has been following the emigration trends for a number of years, and every time they release their latest findings the headline invariably reads: “Never before have so many people considered emigration.” Tárki’s most recent results were published in May.

How many Hungarians live and work abroad? According to the last official statistics of the Central Statistical Office (KSH), their number in 2012 was 230,000. By 2013 KSH and SEEMIG (Managing Migration and Its Effects in South-East Europe) upped this number to close to 420,000. We still have no figures for 2015, but given recent trends the number of Hungarian emigrants at the moment is estimated to be somewhere between 500,000 and 800,000. In six years the rate of emigration has increased sixfold.

Tárki published a telling chart about would-be emigrants’ plans between 1993 and 2015. The chart shows that after 2010 and again after 2014 the number of people contemplating a move grew rapidly. I can’t believe that it is a coincidence that after an Fidesz victory there is a spike in the contemplated emigration rate. People could indicate several emigration plans simultaneously: short- (blue) or long-term (orange) employment, emigration on a permanent basis (grey), or all the above (yellow). In the last case the final decision would depend on the circumstances. Perhaps the most striking change happened after 2014 when those considering permanent emigration grew from 5% to 10%. In a single year. I’m almost certain that most of these people wanted to leave for political reasons, while the others are most likely “economic emigrants,” to use Viktor Orbán’s phrase.

tarki, migracio

One of the frightening aspects of Hungarian emigration statistics is the educational background of the emigrants. While only 19% of the population at home has a college or university degree, 32% of those who packed up and left were college or university educated. The reverse is true of those with only an eight-grade education. They make up 24% of the Hungarian population but only 6% of the emigrants.

Where did these 500,000-800,000 people go? Earlier most of them went to the United Kingdom, Germany, and Austria, but Hungarians are starting to discover equally inviting destinations: Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, and the Netherlands.

The Hungarian colony in London is especially large, so one of the research institutes of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences conducted a survey among them about their reasons for leaving, their satisfaction with their decision to settle in London, and finally whether they are considering returning to the country of their birth. Seventy-three percent of them said that “they have no intention of ever returning to Hungary.” Twenty-one percent answered that “perhaps within a few years” they might go back, and only 6% said that they will definitely return within a year.

János Lázár, in one of his honest moments, admitted that Hungary cannot compete with other western countries in terms of living standards and that since most of the people left Hungary for financial reasons, it is unlikely that they will abandon their well-paid jobs and return to Hungary for a great deal less money. It was therefore surprising that on April 22 the ministry of national economy launched a new program called “Come back home, young Hungarian!” The failure of this program is guaranteed. First of all, the ministry allocated only 100 million forints ($355,000), which Népszava called “laughable,” considering what the government spends on stadiums and giant posters inciting people against immigrants.

Apparently, this year the government is offering a job and a monthly stipend of 100,000 Ft for one year to 50 people. Well, at this rate, even if the program is successful, it will take a very long time to reverse the immigration trend. The government opened a website and is waiting for applicants. The problem is that government officials in charge of the program can’t agree on how many interested young, highly educated people with an excellent knowledge of English the Hungarian government is expecting. Right after launching the program, Undersecretary Sándor Czomba proudly announced that 40,000 Hungarians living abroad had registered on Facebook. Of course, this number was incorrect. Soon enough we heard that 581 people had registered for the program, and a little later it was triumphantly announced that the number had grown to 800. But this figure is misleading because the website is set up in such a way that practically no information is available without first registering. discovered that between April 22 and June 29 only 21 people actually filled out the forms and had an interview with the organization that handles the repatriation. Today I checked the site and under “Success stories” I found a grand total of four names!

Perhaps the Hungarian government is not as eager as it pretends to be to get these expats back. A lot of people suspect that Orbán and his friends find these enterprising young men and women who are brave enough to start a new life elsewhere not especially desirable. They have lived for a number of years abroad, have learned new ways, and have most likely become critical of the oppressive presence of the Hungarian government in all facets of life.

And there might be an even more important reason why the Hungarian government doesn’t mind the large exodus that is taking place. It is the incredible amount of money that these “economic immigrants” send back home. According to a recent study, 20 million East- and Central-Europeans work in other EU countries. These migrants in 2014 sent home $28.5 billion, 10% higher than in 2013 and 31% higher than in 2012. While the average East-European migrant sent $1,700, the average Hungarian sent $5,500. This indicates to me that Hungarian expats, on the whole, have higher-paying jobs than those from other countries in the region. And if that is the case, it is unlikely that there will be great interest in the Hungarian government’s meager enticements.

BBC published a short article, “Hungary: Government seeks to lure young expats back home.” In it they report on a “counter poster” that was an answer to the government’s billboard, “If you come to Hungary you cannot take away Hungarians’ jobs.” It read: “You may safely come to Hungary, we are already working in England.”

Although the Orbán government is doing its best to turn Hungarians against the refugees who are passing through Hungary on their way to the west, Hungarians, according to the latest survey, still consider emigration a greater problem than the practically non-existent immigration.

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I didn’t know that Viktor was giving a night course on governance and sovereignty.

Tsipras in the midst of Greek economic meltdown: on the ‘no’ vote– “Greece must keep ‘core of our sovereignty'”.

Viktor is giving him a pass mark for sure.

(Papa Putin chortling in the background.
‘Yup. There’s more than one way to skin the capitalist cat!’)


A future, tell-all, bestseller: “How the Russians raped Greece and stole the Trojan Horse to use on Europe.”


PETOFI – I have a better one: “How Victor Orban sold the Acropolis for a pot of goulash” 🙂


It occurs to me that those, in this day and age, overly concerned about sovereignty…have little regard for decency–

An interesting comment Eva: “A lot of people suspect that Orbán and his friends find these enterprising young men and women who are brave enough to start a new life elsewhere not especially desirable. They have lived for a number of years abroad, have learned new ways, and have most likely become critical of the oppressive presence of the Hungarian government in all facets of life.” Here in Chicago following the fall of communism in Hungary we had a number of let say generously “right wing” American Hungarians who returned to Hungary to start businesses. Several returned after a few years, having lost I suspect a good part of their investments. Their major compliant was that the Hungarian people had been ruined by years of communism and lost all ability for intense work (no doubt for low wages). They couldn’t have cared in the least if the government was controlled by social democrats or conservatives, they clearly didn’t miss US style democracy either while back in Hungary. I recall one of the failed investors telling me or as he said mondom ezt én it is hard to make money in Hungary without magas elhelyezett barátok. He advised me to invest… Read more »

Not sure why I thought that you live in Minnesota, István, not in Chicago.

I’d like some clarification. Does generously calling someone ‘right wing’ mean that that person is a near-raving fascist?

Who were the exHungarians who returned? 1956ers? Post1989ers?

What kinds of businesses did these exHungarians try to start in Hungary?

When were these various comments made to you? What other salient comments were made? Thanx.


Yes, there were several suspected former Arrow Cross members who returned, one confirmed former SS Hunyadi member returned to Hungary but for some reason decided to retire in Croatia. As I have indicated before in a post his family were very good people, politically conservative but not really fascists. Chicago for whatever reason became after WWII a gathering spot for far right Central European emigrants including Poles, Ukrainians, Croats, Hungarians, and even some Buligarians. Outside of their language based communities they maintained a very low profile, but read neo-Nazis English language newspapers like the Thunderbolt which were shipped to their homes in plain white wrappers. In the 1960s while visiting one of their homes I looked at a copy of the Thunderbolt and was told it was one of the few newspapers that told the truth and my family should get a subscription. Other than that they seemed like a normal American Hungarian Catholic family, their kids participated in the Hungarian scouting through our church. Really when one reflects on what did not seem exceptional in the 1960s about this extreme right wing influence among Central European Children here in Chicago it is very chilling. For the most part the… Read more »

In addition I know one of the returning Hungarians was a very successful engineer whose family worked on road construction projects. So I suspect their attempted Bussiness ventures were in that area. I don’t know what the other returning Hungarians invested in, but in mass Hungarians here in Chicago invested heavily in rental real estate. One family owned at least ten multi-unit apartment building here in Chicago and in our suburbs. I worked for the family on building maintenance as a teen and was always paid in cash. My own family owned two apartment buildings which were converted eventually to condos.


Aptitudes and Attitudes

What Orban needs to do is something for which he is neither mentally competent nor morally inclined: mending fences rather than building them.


It takes six to eight months for babies born to Hungarian parents abroad to get a Hungarian birth certificate or passport.

In Budapest, the following office of the Orban government is responsible for the delay:

„Budapest Főváros Kormányhivatala Építésügyi és Örökségvédelmi, Hatósági, Oktatási és Törvényességi Felügyeleti Főosztályának Honosított és Határon Túli Anyakönyvi Ügyek Osztálya”

Long name, slow work.

Let us remember: Orban created an extra layer of bureaucracy (járás, kormányhivatal) to reward the Fidesz faithful with well-paying jobs.


That’s outrageous. Was it that bad before Orbán as well, or is this a new development since 2010? Anyone know?

For Americans in Hungary, it takes the US Embassy in Budapest 5-10 working days to issue a birth certificate and/or passport.


Since the Transylvanian, Serbians and Ukrainian ethnic Hungarians all vote Fidesz (as many as 1m people in 2018), and the emigrating Hungarians (some 600k and counting) in practice cannot vote the political problem solves itself. Fidesz will remain in power. Orban isn’t worried, time is on his side. With this math its inconceivable that even a united opposition could ever prevail over Fidesz. Smart fidesznik lawyers tweaked the system a little, it’s completely legal, case closed.


I’m wondering whether the official numbers really include all Hungarians working abroad.
Afaik there are a lot of people which work in Alpine resorts in Switzerland, Austria etc during the winter season as cooks, waitresses, housemaids, cleaners etc

And other specialists like masseuses, hairdressers etc work during the summer season in German holiday resorts – I just read somewhere that restaurants and hotels at the Balaton are experiencing difficulties because they can’t get enough qualified personnel with knowledge of foreign languages.

So should we add these numbers to the “economic migrants”?

I’ve met people which work 10 or more hours a day, seven days a week … for a few months – so when they return to Hungary they are totally exhausted. But they made enough money to get them through the rest of the year!


If all goes well, I might be able to earn gross $300,000 in 2015, so almost the sum this pathetic Orban government wants to spend on attracting back our fellow expats..It is indeed a pathetic figure given the billions they spend on soccer stadiums…shame on Mr Orban, Lazar and the entire administration…which in effect in nothing else than INSTITUTIONALIZED CORRUPTION!!!


You’re a card!
Do you know that you’ve just made 10 million enemies? There isn’t a Hungarian in this country who hasn’t immediately envied you and called you jew/thief/mongrel in one-half breath. Anyway, I hope you live outside of the country, which you probably do, because there’s no way you could make that kind of money here without brown-nosing the Great One 24/7.

But I’ll grant you this: you did put the tease on these panting Hungarians!

Hajra Magyarok!

Interesting piece on modern day Magyarorszag. Perhaps the more things change the more they stay the same as my parents made a decision back in the early twentieth to leave their country. A big step if you ask me… almost into an unknown into the great port of New York. I am personally aware of the situation Ms. Balogh describes. I can say indubitably that it reflects on the ability to effect for some Hungarians at least to pursue ‘life, liberty and happiness’. On the emigration, it sure doesn’t bode well if the best and brightest leave for it would leave Hungary bereft in its ‘knowledge’ base for the future. I suspect the government fears this. But I’m not too sure their policies will attack the issue head on. So with that I think that this would be a good time to express a ‘Happy 4th of July’ here to Ms. Balogh and all contributors of this fine forum. I have only been here a few months and I have learned much on the goings on in my ancestral country. I am thankful I have the opportunity to participate and express my opinions. May this all continue as well as… Read more »

For Hungarian speakers interested in this topic from personal points of view, I recommend the Határátkelő blog, where they collect individual stories from Hungarians about why they left their country and what they’re doing abroad.

The running theme that I’ve noticed after reading this site fairly regularly is that Hungarians are leaving their country not solely because of the higher salary abroad, but because they don’t see things improving in Hungary, and don’t see a future in this country.

It doesn’t seem to be about politics so much as they just think that the country simply fails to offer them a better alternative than what they can get outside Hungary. Here’s a typical depressing story from a few days ago:


Nem tudom mit veritek itt a nyálatokat angolul… Magyarul is szidhatnátok Orbánt. Az meg nem annak a max 10 ezer Erdélyinek a “hibája”, akit érdekel a magyarországi politika, hogy a Fideszre szavaz, hanem hogy ilyen töketlenek vagytok balos honfitársak. (egy darab külföldit nem érdekel az ilyesféle függetlenellenzéki tisztánlátás)


Az a baj, hogy az Erdélyieknek nem kell élnie velük. Ha igazából érdekelne a magyarországi politika, akkor jó lenne ha érdekelne a Magyar emberekre is Magyarországon, nem csak az a Part aki segít őket a Romániába. A Fidesz meg vette az Erdélyieket, de amit csinál, az nem fog segíteni egyáltalán, csak használ titeket. Ilyen olcsó vagy? Na, most mar ha akarsz beszelni Magyarul, meny egy fórumba ahol Magyarul beszelnek.


Nurses and others in the health care system are threatening a strike. We just heard from one (who studied hard for several years) that they haven’t seen a significant raise in seven years and still make less than a hundred thousand Forints a month!

Can you imagine that – garbage collectors make more than 100 000 now (not that I would begrudge them that money, it’s still pitiful).

I commented on this on already (that site is still not working properly):
This will serve a dual purpose:

If they go on strike the government saves (well, not a lot of …) money directly and indirectly because the number of pensioners and ill people will be reduced – especially with the oncoming heatwave …
Long live Hungary’s illiberal system (no, I won’t call it democracy, it’s as Orbán said himself, more like porn)!