The Hungarian diaspora – i.e., individuals of Hungarian descent (some of whom have citizenship but many of whom don’t) who don’t live in Hungary – numbers an estimated 5.2-5.5 million people. Of these, about 46% live in other EU countries, a group in which the likelihood of already holding Hungarian or other EU citizenship is high.
Among the remaining 3 million-odd ethnic Hungarians who don’t live in the EU, however, the prevalence of Hungarian citizenship is far lower. Nearly two million of them live in North America, while countries like Serbia, Israel, and Ukraine each have hundreds of thousands of Hungarian descendants. Virtually all of them are eligible for Hungarian – and, by extension – EU citizenship by descent thanks to Hungary’s citizenship by descent laws, which allow those with ethnic Hungarian ancestors to naturalize, often without speaking Hungarian or spending time in the country.
In 2010, when the country amended its nationality laws to allow for the granting of citizenship by descent to so-called “Hungarians beyond the borders” without the need for these to reside physically in Hungary, applications started coming in en masse:
Already in the policy’s first 18 months, more than 200,000 applications were recorded. Another 100,000 filed applications during the summer of 2012 and, by February 2013, the government had granted nearly 400,000 citizenships to individuals of Hungarian ancestry. As of December 2019, Hungary had received more than 1.1 million such applications, of which it had already approved more than 950,000, indicating the country has likely expanded its citizenry by more than a million by now. That’s a consequential number, considering the population of Hungary proper is a mere 9.6 million.
Hungary, in brief, is serious about naturalizing the members of its diaspora, and not deterred by the volume of applications, which has seen the country’s number of citizens expand by at least 10% in under a decade.
How to qualify for Hungarian citizenship by descent
Hungary, explains renowned international citizenship and tax lawyer David Lesperance, grants citizenship in two different ways:
1 – Hungarian citizenship by birth, if either your parent or grandparent was Hungarian at the time of your birth
“If any of your parents or grandparents are Hungarian citizens or were one when you were born, it is very likely that you are one yourself,” says Lesperance. “Whether or not you speak Hungarian is irrelevant.”
He points out some notable exceptions to this general rule:
- Before October 1, 1957, a Hungarian woman lost her Hungarian citizenship if she married a non-Hungarian citizen.
- Before October 1, 1957, a child born to a non-Hungarian father and a Hungarian mother did not become a Hungarian citizen by birth. He or she may become a Hungarian citizen by a declaration, but his or her descendants have to be naturalized.
- If your Hungarian ancestor emigrated from Hungary before September 1, 1929, it is likely that his or her descendants were not born Hungarian citizens. You may be naturalized if you speak Hungarian.
“Citizenship by declaration,” explains Lesperance, “is another simplified form of naturalization but is only applicable to individuals who lost their Hungarian citizenship when they left the country between September 1947 and May 1990.”
2 – Hungarian citizenship through simplified naturalization
Lesperance points out that you can obtain Hungarian citizenship by descent through the simplified naturalization process if:
- One of your parents is of Hungarian descent (but not Hungarian citizens at the time of your birth); OR
- You have been married to a Hungarian citizen for at least 10 years; OR
- You have been married to a Hungarian citizen for at least 5 years and have a common child.
“The fundamental benefit of the simplified naturalization process is that the applicant does not have to live in Hungary on a regular basis for a longer amount of time. However, under the simplified naturalization process, the applicant has to speak the Hungarian language at a basic- intermediate level.
What kinds of documentation do you need to qualify for Hungarian citizenship by descent?
The following are valid proofs of your ancestors’ Hungarian citizenship:
- A valid Hungarian ID card;
- A valid Hungarian passport. If your ancestor’s passport has expired, you may still use it as proof of Hungarian citizenship for one year following the date of its expiry;
- A valid Hungarian citizenship certificate;
- A certificate of naturalization;
- The registry of personal data and addresses.Your ancestor’s data is included in the registry if they have a so-called address card or if they previously had a Hungarian personal number.
Note that Hungarian birth and marriage certificates are not proof of Hungarian citizenship.
“If there are still gaps in the family history and the individual does not know if these criteria have been met,” Lesperance points out, “we recommend a professional genealogist be retained.”
“The next step,” he continues, “is that, if it appears that the descendant has an ancestor who meets these criteria, documentation needs to be gathered to support these facts to the satisfaction of the Hungarian government. If there are still gaps in the documentation, we recommend a professional genealogist be retained.”
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Christian Henrik Nesheim is the founder and editor of Investment Migration Insider, the #1 magazine – online or offline – for residency and citizenship by investment. He is an internationally recognized expert, speaker, documentary producer, and writer on the subject of investment migration, whose work is cited in the Economist, Bloomberg, Fortune, Forbes, Newsweek, and Business Insider. Norwegian by birth, Christian has spent the last 16 years in the United States, China, Spain, and Portugal.