Migration Issues in Hungary


Traditionally speaking, Hungary is a transit, source, and destination country of both regular and irregular migration. Its geographical location, European Union (EU) membership and relative prosperity, coalesced, act as a pull factor for migrants from neighbouring countries, including ethnic Hungarians. As an EU Member State, a section of Hungary’s borders form the external borders of the European Union.

Due to its geographical location, Hungary is one of the main transit countries of irregular migration on land towards other Member States of the European Union. Eastern and south-eastern migration routes cross the territory of the country, with the so-called Western Balkan route (via Turkey, Greece, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia or Croatia to then via Hungary to other EU Member States) being the most active. Prior to the construction of the fence along the two southern borders, Hungary-Serbia and Hungary-Croatia, the country was one of the main entry points into the EU for migrants seeking to move on to other Member States. 

For Hungary, combating irregular migration is currently the utmost priority. There were 411,515 irregular border crossings completed or attended during the year 2015 and over 8,000 during the first quarter of 2016, which is a dramatic increase compared to the previous years: 50,065 irregular border crossings in 2014 and 26,061 in 2013, while in 2012 this number did not even reach 10,000.

The main categories of citizenship have also changed. While in 2014 most of the irregular crossings were undertaken by Kosovars (24,316), Afghans (10,428) and Syrians (8,988), in the first half of 2015 the number of Syrians (57,175) significantly increased. Thus, Syrians have become the main category, followed by Afghans (41,455) and Kosovars (23, 388). Additionally, irregular border crossings by Iraqi nationals have significantly increased from 127 (in the first half of 2014) to 5,543 in the first half of 2015. A predominant part of the apprehended migrants (97,097 out of 173,804 as of August 2015 ) lodged asylum applications in the first half of 2015, resulting in the highest number of applicants in the history of asylum since 1989. However, these claims are largely abandoned, as applicants leave the country within a few days. Official statistics for the year 2016 are yet to be published; nevertheless, the same trend as the first half of 2015 is remerging.


The European Migration Crisis and Hungary

According to IOM's data collection, Hungary was the third European Union country, behind Greece and Croatia, regarding the number of apprehended irregular migrants at its external borders with 411,515 crossings during the year of 2015 only.


The construction of the fence on the two southern borders with Serbia and Croatia in September and in October 2015, respectively, put Hungary outside of the migratory route. The number of daily arrivals of migrants into the Hungarian territory has lowered since its construction; nevertheless, the influx has not stopped completely. Before the completion of the fence and at the start of the migration crisis in summer 2015, the average number of daily arrivals to Hungary was 274. During the months of June, July and August 2015, the average number of registered arrivals in Hungary increased by 447%, or to 1,500 persons/day. The increase in daily arrivals in the country continued during the months of September and October in 2015, which registered a record number of apprehended irregular migrants in the territory of Hungary. In these two months, the average daily arrivals recorded were higher than 7,000, which was an increase of 366% from the previous months. In the months of November and December 2015, the daily arrival number in Hungary dropped to a record low of 10 people/day.

Since January 2016, the number of daily arrivals to the Hungarian territory have increased every month. The increase from January to February 2016 was 355%, or from 18 persons/day to 82 persons/day. Likewise, from February to March there was a 48% increase in the average of daily apprehended migrants, or from 82 persons/day to 116 persons/day.

In August and September 2015, together with the completion of the fence, Hungary introduced amendments to the asylum law, which designate Serbia as safe third country, allow for expedited asylum determination and limit procedural safeguards. Additionally, climbing through the fence or damaging it became criminal offence punishable with imprisonment.



Migrants Facilities in Hungary

In Hungary, there are four different types of facilities accommodating migrants according to their status in the country. These centres are managed and operated by different authorities of the Hungarian state.

Migrants who claim asylum in Hungary are transferred into one of the two centres operated by the Office of Immigration and Nationality (OIN). The reception centres of Bicske, Vamosszabadi, Balassagyarmat and Kiskunhalas host asylum seekers for the duration of the status determination procedure. These centres are open facilities, meaning migrants can leave the centre during the day, but curfew time shall be observed.

In cases that an asylum seeker is deemed a danger to society or that his/her presence shall be ensured during the status determination procedure, he/she is transferred into a closed asylum detention centre. There are two facilities of this kind in Hungary, as shown in the map below: Kiskunhalas and Bekescsaba.

The third type of migrant facility is managed and operated by the Hungarian Police. These institutions accommodate migrants who entered Hungarian territory in an irregular manner and did not claim asylum. Moreover, if a person overstays in Hungary and has no identification documents, he/she is also transferred into an Alien Policing Detention Centre. These facilities are closed, and a migrant can be kept there up to two years according to latest changes in the asylum law.

The last type of facilities for migrants in Hungary is the Child Protection Centre that is managed by the Guardianship Office of Hungary. It is open and accommodates unaccompanied minors apprehended in Hungary.    



Labour Migration

Labour migration of Hungarian citizens has increased and as a result, Hungary is gradually becoming a country in need of foreign workers in certain economic sectors. According to a consultancy agency, Manpower Group, more than 50% of Hungarian firms face significant difficulties filling jobs, especially in the field of information technology and health care. The country also has a serious demand for blue-collar workers. The Hungarian Migration Strategy, adopted in October 2013, also emphasizes the fact that although it is still important to ensure the protection of the national labour market, receiving additional migrant labour is a necessity. Attracting knowledge-based migration is also set as a goal, but there is no developing tendency of highly qualified third-country nationals applying for the EU Blue Card as a possible way to gain residence permit in an EU country.



As immigration to the country has become a reality, there is a growing need for a coherent integration policy and assistance framework. In the period of 2001 and 2011, the number of foreign citizens living in Hungary grew from 93,000 to 206,000, the highest rate of all time. According to the Hungarian Central Statistical Office, the foreign-born population (both EU and non-EU nationals) in Hungary in 2015 was 145,968. Contrary to the trend of the previous decade, recently the overall number of foreigners living in Hungary is decreasing. However, within this population of foreign citizens the number of non-EU nationals is still increasing. Nevertheless, the majority of the total foreign population comes from other European countries: the top three countries are Romania (28,641), Germany (18,773) and Slovakia (8744). 23% comes from Asia, mostly from China. The number of Chinese nationals living in Hungary has doubled since 2007. Furthermore, 4% of foreigners come from America and 3% from Africa. More than 55% of migrants are men. With regards to age, 46% of migrants from both genders are between 20–39 years old. Just shy of half of the third-country nationals residing in Hungary live in Budapest (43%), while 36% have settled down in other cities and 21% live in the countryside.

Despite the relatively low number of foreign-born in the country, Hungarians feature a rather negative perception towards immigrants. From the data of the latest Eurobarometer survey, 24% of the people in Hungary “feel uncomfortable with a person from a different ethnic group than the majority of the population held any political post” (Eurobarometer, 2015). At the same time, 65% of the people surveyed feel that the discrimination on the basis of ethnic background is widespread in the country.



According to the Hungarian Central Statistical Office, 350,000 Hungarians have moved abroad since 1989. The phenomenon of emigration has not been as significantly influenced by Hungary joining the EU in 2004 as much by the first waves of the international economic crisis in 2008. As a consequence of the decreasing employment rate, an increasing number of Hungarian nationals decided to emigrate abroad. According to statistics, 7.4% of  Hungarians between the age of 18–49 was living abroad in 2013 and their number has significantly increased: 31,000 people moved abroad in 2014, which is 10,000 more than the previous year. The main countries of interest for Hungarians are Germany, where the number of Hungarian nationals is 124,000; United Kingdom (74,500) and Austria (36,000). According to the latest emigration trend, also Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium have become popular countries of destination for Hungarian people.

To address the increasing pace of emigration, the Hungarian Government launched a programme (“Gyere haza fiatal”) to encourage the return of young Hungarians living in the UK. The programme targets those Hungarian with a higher education degree, who have emigrated from Hungary. Through the programme, the young professionals can receive several types of assistance. The programme offers several job opportunities, housing assistance and mobility grants to facilitate the travel of those interested in returning for job interviews and mentoring.


Trafficking in Human Beings

Recently, Hungary has become more visible as a country of origin for victims of trafficking. Reports show that Hungary is among the top five countries in terms of where most victims of trafficking come from within the EU. Furthermore, Hungarians constituted 18% of the total victims identified in trafficking investigations by EUROPOL between 2009 and 2013. Even though the actual number of victims remains unknown, experts and professionals agree that the scope of the phenomenon has been on the rise (according to the statistics of the Hungarian Ministry of Interior, 122 and 133 victims were identified in 2012 and 2013, respectively). Though many Hungarians become slaves abroad, internal human trafficking is also of major concern, which also occurs from areas of high unemployment rate in Eastern Hungary to Western Hungary.

Despite the growing numbers, trafficking in human beings is not seen as a problem by the society at large, due to the fact that it affects the subjective sense of safety to a limited extent only – unlike other violent criminal acts or offences against property. Additionally, some victims themselves sometimes do not realize that they have become victims of criminal activities and may even view prostitution as a chance for better financial conditions. Public awareness of the phenomenon is insufficient, even though a rising number of Hungarians go to work abroad and may potentially become victim of labour exploitation, especially in sectors such as agriculture, construction and in factories. The most vulnerable groups are those living in extreme poverty, the Roma, unaccompanied asylum seekers and homeless men. The Roma are overrepresented among women and children who are subjected to sex trafficking within the country and Europe, in particular to the Netherlands and Switzerland. A large number of these victims come from state-provided childcare institutions and correctional facilities where many of them are underage and recruited by traffickers. Additionally, Hungarian men and women are victims of forced labour domestically and abroad, primarily in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.


The number of human smuggling crimes has significantly increased from 338 in the first half of 2014 to 867 in the same period of 2015. The Serbian border section is identified as the scene of the most human smuggling crimes, where their number went up from 231 to 396 during the period of 2014 and first half of 2015. The leader of human smuggling crimes broken down by nationalities are Serbians, with a significant increase from 149 to 396 during the period of 2014 and first half of 2015, Hungarians and Romanians. 



The World Factbook

The World FactbookThe World DataBank – World Development Indicators

UNDP Human Development Reports

UN International Migrant Stock: The 2013 revision

UNSD Demographic Statistics


United Nations Multilingual Terminology Database

World Development Indicators

World Bank staff calculation

United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs

Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2013 Revision

UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2013

Interior Ministry of Hungary 

Maps by Matthew Chwastyk and Ryan Williams, National Geographic

Seeming Project The Economist: More vacancies than visitors, Sept 19th 2015  


This page was last updated on 15 June 2016.