Back in February, I posted on this blog about what some were calling a “labor force boomerang,” booming economic conditions enticing many Magyars to return to Hungary. Sources including Colliers and The Economist were reporting that net emigration from Hungary and other CEE countries has fallen since 2010, that “thriving economies,” increasing wages, low taxes, and a certain “patriotic optimism” are encouraging expats to return home.
Emigration has long been a favorite trope of Prime Minister Orbán’s critics, and the subject appears repeatedly in stories about Hungary in the international media. Hundreds of thousands, according to these accounts, have left the country. Some claimed half a million or more. You know, because of bad economic policy and the terrible conditions in the country.
Affirming the Colliers and Economist reports, numbers released recently by Hungary’s Central Statistics Office (KSH) provide further proof that not only are those numbers off, but in fact the opposite is true.
Since 2010, some 173,000 Hungarians have emigrated for work or residence. The number of Hungarians returning to Hungary, however, has steadily increased since 2014, and the number of people leaving has dropped in the last couple of years.
As I noted in my previous post, few seem to recall that emigration surged after the electoral victory of the Socialist-led government in 2006. Back then, taxes and utility prices were increasing sharply, while unemployment was rising and GDP growth falling. “You are free to go,” said Socialist Prime Minister Gyurcsány at the time.
Contrast that with Prime Minister Orbán who has called on all Hungarians “to build a Hungary where jobs, decent wages, security, and the possibility for the owner-occupied home are waiting for the youth.” Hungary’s GDP growth in 2017 topped 4 percent, reaching a 12-year high. Family allowances and housing subsidies created exceptionally advantageous circumstances for young people to start a family. Taxes remain low, unemployment rate has also hit a record low of 3.8 percent, and wages are rising. Generally speaking, those who want to work can find a job. As a result, according to UN data for 2015, Hungary had the lowest emigration rate in the CEE region.
There’s more. Critics have also pointed to the medical professions as particularly hard-hit by brain drain, but even those numbers are turning around. Since 2010, the Orbán Governments have been increasing the wages of doctors, nurses and other health service professionals and modernizing hospitals around the country. Today, the number of physicians applying for work permits abroad has dropped by 60 percent. The number of nurses leaving the country, according to Parliamentary State Secretary Bence Rétvári, has fallen 30 percent since 2015.
We still have work to do. We’d like to see even more Hungarians returning to the active labor force here at home. But the trends are clearly going in the right direction, and the growing Hungarian economy will continue to offer more job opportunities.