• Kester Eddy

Budapest Restricts Brits' Access by Stealth

Updated: Jul 7

(Please see later story "Good News for Foreigners with Hungarian Residence Permits – it seems" if you are reading this for practical advice.)


When in late June, Anna Quay, a British student, boarded her flight to Budapest, it was with a somewhat heavy heart: despite being born and holding residence in Hungary, she was doubtful of getting past immigration on arrival.


Aware that resident Brits, according to surprising changes in regulations effected only a few days previously, had to request police permission to enter the country, Quay had duly filled in the very exhaustive form in advance (and in the local vernacular), confident that her circumstances would win approval - albeit with a compulsory 14-day quarantine period to sit out once she'd arrived.


But en route to the airport, she got a shock; the emailed reply was negative. The door to Hungary was firmly closed.


With nothing to lose except the time of flying to, and possibly from Budapest, Quay pressed on, passing emigration and on-plane checks with her British passport and Hungarian residency papers.


However, she had an ace up her sleeve. While not holding a passport, Quay had recently obtained Hungarian citizenship – and she hoped that immigration would accept the naturalisation certificate as a valid entry document.


And, rendben van! So it proved: Quay, who had been in the UK for some time, and had travelled through London, a UK hotspot for C-19 infections, to reach her departure airport, walked into Hungary and – by dint of her local papers, did not even need to endure the fortnight's quarantine tethered to home. (She is, in fact, voluntarily staying at home.)


Yet without that naturalisation certificate, chances are, she'd have been put back on the plane to London tout suite.


As a close relative put it: “It's totally bonkers, isn't it?”


It all illustrates the sudden, disruptive and frustrating nature of Hungarian rule making.

On June 18, Hungary opened its borders to all EU and EAA citizens. Even Ukrainians have been granted free, if limited access, into Hungarian territory for 24 hours. But while this news hit the headlines, the changed status of UK citizens has been barely reported.


From that date, Brits, who had been classified as sort of 'honorary' EU passport holders previously, could only gain entry via a special police exemption permit. What's more, unless married to an EU or EEA citizen, this also applies to those Brits with residence permits.


Without making any great effort to publicise the news, Hungary has effectively put Brits that have stayed here legally during lockdown, paying taxes and obeying local C-19 prevention rules, and in many cases, keeping Hungarian employed – into a kind of "living in No Man's Land" category – and this includes yours truly.


It means that if I go to Esztergom and walk over the bridge into Slovakia (as thousands do every day) – I have no guarantee of getting back in, unless I apply for the permit and receive it beforehand. (I was, indeed, toying with a weekend trip to Slovenian vineyards until I discovered all this.)


And, as the story of Anna Quay shows, there is no guarantee of getting that 'exemption', even with good reason.


OK, it's not exactly a pre-Berlin Wall type scenario, but neither is it 21st century, free-movement friendly.


The move has clearly upset Iain Lindsay, the British Ambassador to Hungary, who posted a video on the embassy facebook page which is notably devoid of any of the usual sweetness he expresses towards his host country.

https://www.facebook.com/ukinhungary/


The place to find the police exemption form is here: www.police.hu/ugyintezes-dokumentumok/hu!ugyintezes!elektronikus-ugyintezes!meltanyossagi-kerelem-magyarorszagra-torteno-beutazashoz-2


And there is an explanation in English file:///C:/Users/User/AppData/Local/Temp/EN_COVID-01_COVID-02_COVID-03_COVID-04_v2.0_2020_06_18_0.pdf

but the application has to be in Hungarian. (And good luck with that if your skills level is not at least lower intermediate.)


There is the notion going around that the government's move is a kind of tit-for-tat because of the restriction placed on Hungarians going to the UK, and if that can be sorted out, all will return to sweetness and pre-Brexit roses – at least until December 31.

But unless you hear serious news to the contrary, if you're a resident Brit that happens to find yourself in Esztergom, forget any ideas of tasting Slovak vino and stay on the south bank of the Danube if you want to be sure of sleeping in your bed that evening.


Anna Quay is a pseudonym after she requested her name not be used publicly.


For a previous disruptive, cack-eyed piece of Hungarian legislation affecting ex-patriate residents, see;

https://bbj.hu/opinion/poorly-planned-emergency-measures-wreak-havoc-for-resident-expats-and-border-police_180283


And for a breif overview of how Hungary coped - or otherwise - with the pandemic, see:

https://bbj.hu/special-report/covid-19-how-did-state-sector-cope_184439

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