U.S. Limits Visa Waiver for Hungarians Citing Pre-2020 Passport Issues

Int’l Relations

Restrictions on Hungarian nationals' participation in the United States' Visa Waiver Program have been introduced because of passports issued before the rollout of biometric data in the framework of a simplified naturalization process, the U.S. Department of State told Hungarian news agency MTI on Tuesday.

"The new conditions on the Visa Waiver Program have nothing to do with any issue other than Hungary's compliance with the Visa Waiver Program itself," Department of State spokesman Matthew Miller said fielding questions at a press briefing on Tuesday.

He noted that "nearly 1 million" people had gained Hungarian citizenship through the simplified naturalization process before Hungary began instituting full biometric and identity verification in 2020.

"During that period from 2011 to 2020, the program lacked adequate procedures to verify applicants' identities before allowing them to obtain citizenship," he said. "We know that valid Hungarian passports were then fraudulently obtained by criminals and individuals with no connection to Hungary," he added.

Asked whether any of those individuals had entered the United States, Miller said he didn't have "specific information" about who had entered the country.

He added that U.S. officials had provided the Hungarian government with "extensive guidance" on ways to mitigate vulnerabilities, but the government had "not opted to take those steps".

On Tuesday, the US embassy in Budapest said it had informed the Hungarian government that the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation validity period for travel by Hungarian passport holders had been reduced from two years to one year and that the validity of an ESTA for Hungarian passport holders would be limited to a single use with immediate effect.

All ESTA approvals granted prior to August 1, 2023, remain valid for two years and for multiple entries, the embassy added.

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