The Hungarian government has reintroduced its controversial Golden Visa program that grants residency permits to wealthy foreigners, six years after it was suspended amid allegations of corruption.
The relaunched “guest investor program” will allow non-EU citizens who invest at least €250,000 in Hungarian real estate funds or €500,000 in property to apply for a 10-year renewable residency permit. Donations of €1 million or more to government-controlled foundations overseeing universities and other public institutions will also qualify.
Critics Question Motives and Oversight
The original program, launched in 2013, was shut down in 2017 following media reports that it allowed criminals and persons under international sanctions to gain residency and access to the EU. It granted residency and visa-free EU travel to those who purchased €300,000 in government bonds.
Critics accused the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of lax vetting and oversight. They also questioned the economic benefits, given that the bonds were repaid in full after five years without interest.
The revived program raises similar concerns. The category of “strategically important investments” that qualify for the guest investor visa leaves room for politically connected approvals. Safeguards to prevent money laundering and infiltration of unsavory characters into Hungary and the EU remain unclear.
Implications for Immigration and Travel to EU
The guest investor visa provides a path to permanent Hungarian and European Union (EU) residency. It offers a backdoor to immigrants who might not otherwise qualify under Hungary’s immigration system.
The visa also grants its holder broader travel privileges within the borderless EU Schengen area, comprised of most EU members plus Switzerland, Norway and others. Schengen rules normally restrict visitor stays within any 180-day period to 90 days maximum.
Those gaining residency under the program would also have a much easier time applying for full Hungarian and EU citizenship down the road.
Critics argue that purchasing EU residency and citizenship debases their value and meaning. It also raises security risks by sidestepping normal background checks and eligibility criteria.
ETIAS Authorization Still Required for Visa-Free Entry
One key point concerning visa-free entry to Hungary and Schengen is that the EU’s upcoming European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) will still apply. ETIAS requires citizens of over 60 countries including the US, UK, Canada, Australia and others to obtain advance authorization before traveling visa-free to Europe.
ETIAS approval, costing €7 and valid for three years, will provide an additional layer of screening for potential risks. The quick online application also supplies information on applicants’ purpose of travel and other details.
Hungary’s Schengen membership means ETIAS will function there like it will everywhere else across Europe. Visa runs to reset the normal 90-day limit will also be tracked and restricted.
The ETIAS is expected to be implemented in Spring 2025.
Read More: Hungary ETIAS
Hungary’s resuscitated golden visa program raises renewed concerns about oversight, security and fairness. But mandatory ETIAS screening offers some re-assurance of strengthened EU border controls for all visitors regardless of residency status. The long-term impacts on both Hungary and the broader EU remain to be seen.