Should I apply for Hungarian citizenship?
May 23, 2017 9:23 AM   Subscribe

I'm a US citizen/resident and I'm considering whether to apply for Hungarian citizenship by descent. What advantages and ramifications should I consider?

I'm a US citizen and I've essentially always lived in the US.

My mom applied for and just received Hungarian citizenship by descent. We were sure that we were "technically" eligible for citizenship - our situation and the years align with the citizenship laws appropriately - but we weren't sure we'd be able to prove it, given that the last time anyone in my family lived in Hungary happened in the process of fleeing the Nazis (under fake names, no less). Amazingly, everything worked out! As her children, my brothers and I are also eligible (yes, she was born post-1957) and my brothers do plan to apply. I think I probably should as well, but I want to understand the possible advantages and ramifications before I do so. Here are some specific considerations:

- I don't speak Hungarian or feel particularly connected to Hungarian culture (my family had no particular affection for the place after, you know, the Holocaust). I've never visited, although I'm certainly interested in doing so on a typical tourist level. I don't know, ethically, if I should feel that applying for citizenship of a country I know so little about is sort of insensitive (especially considering the people who need the opportunity so much more than I do). Plus, I expect it would be very challenging for someone of my background and language skills to ever live or work there.
- I don't have any specific plans to leave the US, but I also don't expect to live here forever - not just because of the current political situation (although that doesn't help) but also because I like the idea of having a family in a place that's more supportive of that. Also because I like living with my boyfriend and there's no guarantee that he will always be able to stay here:
-My boyfriend is foreign (he's a citizen of an Asian country, though he has some work and education history in other EU countries and given his field and experience he would probably have a reasonable shot at work permits in the more permissive EU countries). He's currently in the US on a work-based visa, which carries risks if he loses his job or visa rules change or USCIS takes issue with him for whatever reason. We would like to continue to spend our lives together for the foreseeable future and finding countries where we can both live and work legally (assume marriage is not in the cards) is a challenge.
- I don't hold security clearance right now but I may want to apply in the future (I work sort of adjacent to many jobs that require it). I understand that holding dual citizenship - and probably especially having applied as an adult - is a liability. This is a risk I'm willing to take, although I'd like to understand how big the risk is.
- I only have fluency in English and, although I'm open to learning other languages, I'm a pretty bad language learner and I assume it'd take me years to learn anything at even a conversational level. At this point in my life I expect to always work in English.
- There's no specific deadline, really, although the process would be slow enough that if I ever wanted to move or travel on that passport, it'd be a strong advantage to already have it in hand well before that.
- I honestly don't understand the politics of the EU right now that well and I don't really know what to expect for the future (I guess nobody does, really) but obviously that's a huge determinant of what opportunities a passport like that would or would not open. I'm definitely interested in reading any insightful news analysis or whatever to give me some idea of what may be to come for the EU, or what policy changes might be expected should the EU no longer exist in its current state.

I'm not so interested in the application process - I think I pretty much understand that - but more in the specifics that I may or may not have considered w/r/t opportunities and costs and ethical baggage and, maybe, things I haven't considered about hungarian culture. I've read this and this but those focus more on eligibility and process while I'm not so concerned about that now. Any and all advice is welcome, though!
posted by R a c h e l to Law & Government (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Actually, one more question - upon reading this, I understand that Hungary may tax some foreign income although US income would not (?) be taxed. Would I still need to file taxes there, too? Would I need to consistently be comparing tax rates between the US, Hungary, and potentially other countries if I ever earned non-US income?
posted by R a c h e l at 9:36 AM on May 23, 2017

I have a Hungarian passport (I got mine the same way as your mother) and live in Europe. Without it I wouldn't be able to live and work here, so to me it's fundamental. I think it's a good idea to have it just in case you change your mind about not wanting to live here. Just because you have it doesn't mean you have to use it.

Also, Budapest is lovely.
posted by toerinishuman at 9:39 AM on May 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think you are vastly over thinking this. Applying for Hungarian citizenship doesn't make you Hungarian; it makes you a Hungarian citizen. I say this as someone who recognises that though I have lived here for 12 years, getting my passport doesn't make me Irish. You don't need to speak Hungarian or be culturally Hungarian to avail of this chance. The only ethical considerations I would give mileage to is the one based on your fore bearers fleeing the Nazis. You are entitled to this passport; Hungary would not extend this privilege if they did not think you were.

Being an EU citizen is an amazing boon and if you can grab this brass ring, you should.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:48 AM on May 23, 2017 [15 favorites]

Plus, I expect it would be very challenging for someone of my background and language skills to ever live or work there.

As an EU citizen, you could live & work anywhere in the EU, not just Hungary, if that makes any difference.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:51 AM on May 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Run, don't walk. Having an EU passport gives you a lot of options. Travel on the US passport.
posted by theora55 at 9:54 AM on May 23, 2017 [6 favorites]

It's all about the EU membership with this. Anecdotally, I find that the EU has made it so easy to fill roles in EU companies that many specialized positions don't even consider non-EU citizens.

As far as clearance, it depends on what level. I know dual citizens with secret-level clearance. Top secret clearance will likely require that you give up any foreign citizenship, though.
posted by deanc at 10:01 AM on May 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

Don't overthink this; citizenship is a legal status, not an emotional one (which is not to say it can't be an emotional process acquiring the citizenship, of course.) If the officials reviewing your application and materials feel you qualify for citizenship, you qualify for citizenship. It's not appropriative in any way to accept a passport.

It sounds like your boyfriend has some flexibility in terms of where he could reasonably and legally live; if you acquire EU citizenship, you'll pick up some geographic flexibility of your own to match. It sounds like a good idea to me.

The only one of your considerations I'd even pause at is the question about clearance, but if in the future your dual citizenship bars you from a particular level of clearance, you can always relinquish the Hungarian citizenship if you decide that's the best choice in the situation. I can't imagine you'd be penalized for holding it in the first place, and the (unfortunate! unfair!) truth is that an EU citizenship is likely to be especially inoffensive in this situation.
posted by superfluousm at 10:10 AM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Do it, but remember that Orban is a massive asshole so things might be equally tough for your boyfriend if you end up in Hungary itself.
posted by aramaic at 10:11 AM on May 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't know, ethically, if I should feel that applying for citizenship of a country I know so little about is sort of insensitive (especially considering the people who need the opportunity so much more than I do). Plus, I expect it would be very challenging for someone of my background and language skills to ever live or work there.

Don't think of it as "applying for citizenship" -- you're not asking to naturalize as a Hungarian citizen; you are a Hungarian citizen, you're just applying for proof of your citizenship. Similarly, you're a US citizen regardless of whether you've ever applied for a US passport.
posted by melissasaurus at 10:25 AM on May 23, 2017 [11 favorites]

Agree with everyone else that the downsides seem minimal compared to the upsides of an EU passport, and that you can always relinquish the citizenship later on if it turns out to be important to get a security clearance or something. However, one negative that hasn't been mentioned is that as a dual citizen traveling in one of your countries of citizenship, you are no longer entitled to the same assistance and protections as you would be if you were traveling as a foreign visitor. That is, if you go to visit Hungary (and likely in all of the EU, though I'm not 100% sure of that part) and you get arrested, or become destitute, or get trapped by an earthquake, you'll rely on local systems and resources for assistance without US intervention. Probably not a big deal for you, but something to be aware of.
posted by exutima at 11:44 AM on May 23, 2017

Just do it. I'm a dual citizen. My family left Canada at age 3 and we never went back to live, but I just got myself a Canadian passport and I'm getting my son his Canadian citizenship papers and passport even though he's never been to Canada in his life. Honestly, it just gives me peace of mind. If things go utterly tits-up here, there i s somewhere else I can legally go and take my family, too. If my son is looking for work when he's older, he'll have two countries he can legally work in rather than one. It's always good to have options. If one of those options was EU citizenship, I'd be on it doubletime.

I may never go back to Canada to live. I certainly don't have any plans right now to do so. But I am a Canadian citizen, and so is my kid, and it gives me a feeling of security to have all our documentation already taken care of, just in case.
posted by soren_lorensen at 12:15 PM on May 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

After some hemming and hawing a few years ago, I decided to confirm my Polish citizenship and I couldn't be happier about my decision.

As has been said many times above, citizenship is a legal state and, outside of the country, not even much of an obligation. Hungary and Poland both have residence-based taxation; in your case, that means any income originating from Hungary will be taxed, but if you don't live in Hungary your income from any other country will not be taxed. (If this is going to be a major issue, you should consult with an international tax specialist now.)

Other normal citizen's obligations, like keeping national health insurance or getting an ID card, may or may not apply to you. You can contact your local consulate with any questions, although the usefulness of the consulate staff, to put it mildly, varies.

Studying the history of your other country, though, even if you never plan to live there, can give you a satisfying emotional connection. I'm not Catholic or even ethnically Polish, but Polish history is part of my story too. Like Hungary, Poland is rather illiberal and quite homophobic right now, so I have no desire to live there, but so what? You can look at it as another opportunity to get politically involved, even if it's from abroad and in a different language. See if there are any Hungarian organizations for overseas Hungarian or for Hungarian-Americans. Meet up with any Hungarian citizens nearby and talk to them about your other nation. I'm sure people will be thrilled to tell you about their, and your, country.

If you don't give two figs about Hungary, here's about 30 other countries you have access to now where you can live, if you want. And even if you don't want, it's kind of nice knowing there are a bunch of places that can't keep you out. If it makes you feel better and helps you wrap your mind about your citizenship status, you can call yourself an EU citizen by way of Hungary. There is a robust pro-EU, pro-European movement out there. In short, Hungarian citizenship is what you make of it, and how you identify as a result is completely up to you.

You don't need to become fluent in Hungarian, but you do need to at least be able to read what I call administrative Hungarian—the words for "name", "address", "eye color", "signature", "identity card", that sort of thing. Most countries with an official language won't let you conduct business in English! The Polish consulate did have copies of forms I needed on their website, so those plus Google Translate gave me a good idea of what they wanted. And again, they were able to help me when I got stuck or needed to write more than a one-word answer. There may also be Hungarian lawyers who specialize in citizenship issues; their websites might be a good place to go for very general information.

I would not be as blasé about giving up your citizenship if you need to, however. Poland has a very difficult renunciation process. Literally the only person who can authorize my renunciation is the President of Poland, and obviously he has other things he needs to do. So if you might need to renounce because of a security clearance issue, it might be an involved or even nonexistent process in Hungary. On the other hand, I understand that you don't actually need to renounce, because a citizen asking to renounce citizenship means you will be asked why, and the US government doesn't want to tip their hand that you might know classified information. Generally they will only require that you be willing to renounce, and they might ask you to hand over your Hungarian passport for safekeeping and/or take other steps when you travel overseas, particularly to the EU, most particularly to Hungary.

On the third hand, a security review might look askance at the fact that you sought out a second citizenship, even if you were technically a Hungarian citizen from birth. I Am Not Your Security Officer. If requesting a security clearance is a good possibility for you, I would ask around from experts on this issue. You can also search prior decisions from the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals to get some idea of how they might decide foreign-preference cases.

It's a lot to take in and pretty mind-blowing. I think on balance it's a great opportunity, and one that people pay thousands or millions of $CURRENCY for. You're getting this for just administrative costs. Weigh the pros and cons carefully, but I would default to getting a second citizenship unless there were a really compelling reason not to.
posted by Somnambulista at 4:39 PM on May 23, 2017

Thinking of having kids?

Feeling confident that no future US government would ever draft them into an immoral/illegal war?
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:00 PM on May 23, 2017

I have actually had a job interview stop dead because I am a dual citizen, the job required a security clearance and I am not willing to say I'd consider renouncing for the sake of a job. (Interestingly, the interviewer is pretty much the only person who did not simply assume that I would happily renounce--see everyone in this thread) If you're applying for such a job, they'd already rather hire someone who already has a security clearance, and being a dual citizen is only going to push you further down the list. Dual citizenship is, by all accounts, not necessarily a dealbreaker, but it does seem you have to be willing to entertain the possibility of renouncing and that you're in a significantly better position if you have not acquired/renewed a second passport as an adult. tl;dr you need a much better understanding of the ramifications for your career path than AskMe can give you.

Aside from the security clearance thing, the downsides are mostly in extra passport paperwork and costs. If you need to change your name or gender marker it can get kind of messy. You may or may not get to vote. There may or may not be anyone representing your interests in the Hungarian government. (This usually doesn't matter, until it does. At one point, the UK was going to make everyone appear in person to get a passport, which is fine and dandy, except plenty of people overseas could live 1000+ miles from a consulate. Rural Scotland kicked up a fuss.) In some circumstances, you may have to juggle passports. The US requires you enter and leave on the US passport (whatever "leave" means without exit controls--it seems to mean tell the airline you're American). I expect Hungary does not have such a requirement (seems like the Schengen Zone would make it impractical), but I don't know.
posted by hoyland at 7:12 PM on May 23, 2017

I did this with my Italian ancestors; I grew up in America and had my Italian citizenship recognized only in 2012. While it was surreal to visit their ancestral hometown in Sicily speaking only bad Spanish, it was still amazing to see the original ancestral records of my great-great-greats after emailing the mayor and asking to visit their town hall.

There are practical reasons for me to be an EU citizen as I work in a field where multiple passports are almost required to exploit the career to its fullest. I also live overseas in a third jurisdiction and the tax thing is minimal hassle if you have a normal job and salary - I see an accountant once a year and file for both here and the US and only pay tax here.

An unexpected side benefit has been cheaper travel; just in terms of dollar for dollar savings, the forty-odd euros I spent on the passport after we were recognized has saved me HUNDREDS of dollars in visa fees for Vietnam, Turkey and loads of other places.

Also: fancy a trip to Iran? Go as a Hungarian and get a visa on arrival and travel independently, without a tour, surrounded by real Iranians. MeMail me for details.
posted by mdonley at 3:32 AM on May 24, 2017

I hear the consensus loud and clear, so thanks y'all :).

To clarify, the reason I ask about the ethics is because in reading places like r/IWantOut I've been seeing a lot from ethnic Hungarians (with and without citizenship) who resent those with an easier path to citizenship than they do - and though I certainly wouldn't begrudge anyone else handling immigration in whatever way is best given their personal circumstances, I do kind of feel like it's "unfair" that ethnic Hungarians in neighboring states and refugees in Hungary have to walk a much more difficult path than I do. I also don't feel like I'm particularly ethnically Hungarian because I'm pretty sure that only one generation of my family was born there so any connection I feel to the country and the culture is honestly pretty tenuous. Regardless of any application, though, I'm increasingly excited about the idea of trying to plan a future trip to visit and learn more about the country!

All things considered, since I have a relatively easy option/opportunity right now, I think the benefits of being able to work in the EU are more significant than the benefits of a frictionless security clearance application (hell, dating a foreigner was already not the optimal choice for that). My understanding does parallel the above comments, though, that Hungarian citizenship is extremely hard to renounce so that's probably not an option to count on in the case of future problems.

Thanks for the information!
posted by R a c h e l at 8:18 AM on May 24, 2017


IWantOut is just a weird intersection of entitlement, crabbiness and protectionism. I would not worry about it as a realistic barometer of jack squiddlydoo, to be honest.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:34 AM on May 24, 2017

You are lucky to have the opportunity to get an EU passport. People may resent that. You getting a passport does not deprive someone else, so you have nothing to be ashamed of. I would really love to have a 2nd passport, but Canada doesn't give extra points if you had Canadian grandparents. But I'm not resentful of people who can get get a 2nd passport. Please don't let some people on reddit mess with your life.
posted by theora55 at 2:55 PM on May 24, 2017

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