In a statement issued in reaction to Washington’s decision to tighten rules for Hungary regarding the US Visa Waiver Program, Bence Rétvári, the Hungarian interior ministry’s state secretary, said remarks made by the US State Department’s spokesman were “deceptive” and “false”.
Matthew Millar, the spokesman of the US State Department, said the move to tighten the visa rules has “nothing to do with any issue other than Hungary’s compliance with the Visa Waiver Program itself”. “In 2011, the Hungarian Government launched a simplified naturalization process. Nearly 1 million people gained Hungarian citizenship through this program before Hungary began instituting full biometric and identity verification in 2020,” Miller told MTI during a press briefing on Tuesday, local time. “During that period from 2011 to 2020, the program lacked adequate procedures to verify applicants’ identities before allowing them to obtain citizenship. We know that valid Hungarian passports were then fraudulently obtained by criminals and individuals with no connection to Hungary,” he said. In response to a question concerning whether the US government had concrete information on Hungarian passport holders with questionable backgrounds having entered the United States, he said, “I don’t have information on people who came”. “We looked at the fact that there were people who were getting passports without going through a rigorous screening that we think is necessary to gain – should be necessary to gain a passport. And so we raised the issue with the Hungarian Government, gave them an opportunity to address the situation, and they refused to do so,” said Miller.
Rétvári insisted that Hungary had conducted a legal procedure in each concrete case indicated by US law enforcement authorities. Those persons implicated have been subjected to criminal investigation and have been stripped of their Hungarian citizenship, Rétvári said in the statement, adding that despite those measures the US government demanded the disclosure of personal data in connection with Hungarians with dual citizenship living abroad. “The United States of America demands from Hungary the disclosure of personal data of those 900,000 Hungarians with dual citizenship living abroad,” he said. “Hungary will however not release such data to anyone because that would compromise the security of Hungarians living abroad,” Rétvári said there was no guarantee that should the US’s request be fulfilled, the personal data of ethnic Hungarians living in Transcarpathia would not be immediately released to Ukraine, which he said would carry serious consequences for those Hungarians in light of a Ukrainian law banning dual citizenship. He said the US was “taking revenge” on Hungary because Hungary was not fulfilling the United States’ “unjustified request”.