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Oct 16, 2019 - Zoltán Kovács

Homecoming: Remember that argument about how Hungarians are emigrating in masses?

If you’ve read anything about Hungary over the last nine years, you’ve most certainly encountered the argument that Hungarians are leaving the country by the thousands. Because of Prime Minister Orbán, of course. While emigration has indeed been a challenge for many of the countries of the CEE region, PM Orbán has been part of the solution rather than the cause. And our fellow Hungarians are, in fact, coming home.

One of the recurring claims of our critics says that when Prime Minister Orbán’s government took office in 2010, “masses of Hungarians” decided to leave the country. Emigration has been a problem for Hungary, as it has been in many CEE countries, but its reasons differ from what the leftist cabal would have you believe.

In 2010, two years after the financial crisis and in the wake of the disastrous economic results delivered by eight years of Socialist-Liberal government, emigration for many Hungarians was a tempting option. Getting a job in Austria, Germany, or the UK seemed the best – for some, the only – bet. And who can blame them? When economic growth plummets, real wages remain low and unemployment high, people will look for opportunities elsewhere.

What’s not so obvious, however, is that there was another major factor behind the spike in the number of Hungarians leaving the country in 2011. Per EU law, when the EU-8 joined the bloc in 2004 (plus Romania and Bulgaria in 2007), “old” member states had the right to place “transitional constraints” on the free movement of laborers for up to seven years. The law was instituted so that these older members could prepare their economies for the influx of workers from new Eastern member states. And that meant that Hungarian workers could not immediately go looking for job opportunities in western Europe as they had planned.

While most of the EU-15 allowed workers from new member states by 2006 or 2009, Austria and Germany – two of the preferred destinations for Hungarians looking for employment – kept their labor markets closed until 2011. And it was in that year that, according to official data by Hungary’s Central Statistics Office (KSH), the number of emigrants almost doubled. Coincidence? Hardly.

But the economic situation and labor market in Hungary have changed dramatically since then. Fast forward to 2017, and the number of Hungarians coming home exceeded that of those leaving, after being flat in 2016, the Central Statistics Office reported. As Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said at the Inspiring Hungary conference last week, this trend is not surprising in light of Hungary’s remarkable 70 percent growth in net wages since 2010. In fact, the data reveals that net wages have been on the rise for 77 consecutive months.

Over the last nine years, under three, consecutive Orbán governments, Hungary has recovered from the financial crisis, sent the IMF packing, reduced public debt to well below 70 percent, and achieved record-breaking levels of GDP growth.

Real wages are rising and unemployment has been falling. Thanks to the Orbán Governments, our people are returning home.

Photo credit: medium.com