Fact Check: Repatriating Hungarians Have NOT Outnumbered Emigrants Since 2016


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Fact Check: Repatriating Hungarians Have NOT Outnumbered Emigrants Since 2016 Stats Mislead

Have more Hungarian citizens moved home from abroad than have emigrated since 2016? No, that's not true: The misleading claim includes the number of ethnic Hungarians born in neighboring countries who obtained residence in Hungary in order to vote or access other benefits, but may not have physically lived there, a former head of Hungary's Central Statistical Office (KSH) told Hungarian media. Moreover, statisticians employ a methodology that understates the true number of Hungarian-born expatriates, he said.

The claim appeared in a Hungarian-language video (archived here) on a TikTok account belonging to Hungarian Member of Parliament Boglárka Illés on September 13, 2023, under the title "🇭🇺 This is how a Tranzit looks with Gergely Gulyás." It showed Gergely Gulyás, Hungary's chancellery minister, taking part in a debate at the Tranzit political conference on August 25, 2023, saying:

So, if the question is whether a government's performance can be assessed by the number of people who leave a country, then... since 2016, if I recall, 2016 was the turning point, more Hungarians are coming back to Hungary, or to Hungary, than the number who leave the country.

(All translations by Lead Stories.)

This is what the post looked like on TikTok at the time of writing:

(Source: TikTok screenshot taken on Mon Sep 25 05:04:46 2023 UTC)

Emigration is a hot-button political issue in Hungary because the country is battling a demographic decline. Its population dropped from 10.7 million in 1980 to 9.6 million in 2023, with the average age rising from 36 to 43 years over the same period, according to KSH statistics.

Some 7,318 Hungarian citizens emigrated in 2010, the year Gulyás' Fidesz party came to power, according to the KSH. This number shot up to 32,825 by 2015, buoyed by the fact that richer European Union member states lifted all work permit requirements for Hungarians in 2011. The number of expatriates outstripped the number of returnees every year from 2010 to 2015, KSH's data shows.

In 2016, emigrant numbers fell to 29,425, still dwarfing the 16,215 Hungarians who decided to move back home. The "turning point" Gulyás describes is only possible if it includes the 13,600 Hungarian citizens born in foreign countries who declared residence on Hungary's official register in 2016, KSH statistics show. Ethnic Hungarians born in neighboring countries are able to obtain Hungarian citizenship under an expedited process that Fidesz created in 2010.

This skews the number of "returnees" upwards by including those who may not physically reside in Hungary, former KSH President Tamás Katona told Hungarian newspaper Népszava in 2019:

The statistics consider not only those who actually moved home as returnees, but also those Hungarians living in Romania who obtained Hungarian citizenship by right of origin and registered for a residential address here, or those Ukrainian citizens who registered en masse in a few villages along the eastern border just before [the 2018] election to vote.

KSH's data shows a surge in the number of foreign-born Hungarian citizens claiming residence in 2014 and 2022, both election years.

Moreover, KSH statisticians calculate emigration numbers based on the number of Hungarians who terminate their compulsory state health insurance policies, saying they will get coverage in their new countries of residence, Katona said. Since many Hungarian expatriates do not bother taking this step, the KSH methodology underestimates the true number of emigrants, he said.

Katona's analysis was corroborated by László Szabó, head of the Community of Hungarians in London, an expat group. Szabó estimated that 40 percent of Hungarians living in London in 2019, including himself, still had their health insurance cards, Népszava reported.


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