The main criteria for naturalisation are laid down in Section 4(1) of the Citizenship Act as the following:
- The applicant has resided in Hungary continuously over a period of eight years;
- According to Hungarian laws, the applicant has a clean criminal record and is not being indicted in any criminal proceedings before the Hungarian court;
- The applicant has sufficient means of subsistence and a place of residence in Hungary;
- His or her naturalisation is not considered to be a threat to public policy or to the national security of Hungary; and
- The applicant provides proof that he or she has passed the exam in basic constitutional studies in Hungarian, or provides proof for his or her exemption from such exam.
The minimum period of residence prior to the naturalisation application is shorter for a number of categories of applicants who are treated favourably. Recognised refugees and stateless persons are two of the categories benefitting from preferential treatment and are required to have resided in Hungary for a continuous period of at least three years directly prior to the submission of the application. Although regarding stateless persons the actual waiting time is 6 years, since they are not entitled to establish a domicile right after they were granted stateless status. In practice, this means that stateless persons at first have to apply for a national long-term residence permit and only after obtaining it together with the registered domicile can they apply for Hungarian citizenship. According to the Menedék Association, in practice after 3 years with an established domicile refugees cannot be granted citizenship because they usually have difficulties fulfilling the other criteria due to the lack of proper integration support.
As per the experiences of the HHC, having no stable accommodation (but living in a homeless shelter) and the lack of adequate Hungarian language skills are striking within the difficulties, persons with international protection face as an obstacle upon the application for Hungarian citizenship. Moreover, the high fees of the Hungarian Office for Translation and Attestation Ltd. might result in further difficulties when it comes to the application for citizenship.
Section 4(2) of the Citizenship Act clarifies the distinction between refugee status and subsidiary protection, by providing preferential treatment only to refugees, while persons with subsidiary protection fall under the general rule of 8-year-long previous residence in Hungary. Moreover, the Asylum Act expressly states that beneficiaries of subsidiary protection shall not be entitled to the conditions for preferential naturalisation made available to refugees in the Citizenship Act.
The naturalisation procedure is conducted by the Government Office of Budapest. The application can be submitted at any local government office, which transfers the case file to the Government Office of Budapest. HHC is aware of the practice at place in the government offices, according to which the officer requires the applicant to write down the whole curriculum vitae again or to fill in the application form in front of them, thereby controlling the Hungarian language skills of the applicant.
According to the law, the constitutional exam can be substituted by a certificate issued by an accredited school proving that the person had attended the program equating to 8 years of elementary school. Nonetheless as per the experience of HHC, in 2020 the government offices did not accept the certificate of one specific school that is considered to provide a lower quality educational program by the authorities. Applicants presenting such certificates were instructed by the officers to take the constitutional exam. In the view of the HHC this practice is unlawful as the mentioned school is accredited in Hungary and there is no legal basis for such a rejection for the certificate.
Regarding the problem of authentication of foreign documents – the relevant obligation of the authentication is provided by Section 14(5)(a) Citizenship Act – a study on Hungarian nationalisation written by the Gábor Gyulai, an expert on naturalisation and statelessness procedures in Hungary points out the following:
“[O]fficial foreign documents must go through diplomatic legalisation (authentication) before submission, unless this would take an unreasonably long time (according to the declaration of the competent consular officer) or if this would result in seriously adverse legal consequences for the applicant. This latter exception could constitute an important safeguard for refugees and other beneficiaries of international protection; nonetheless, there is no information whether it is applied as such in practice.”
According to the latest experience of the HHC, the authority upon a request for exemption accepts original documents without diplomatic authentication.
There is an ex lege eventual practice of the Government Office of Budapest, according to which the authority summons the applicant for a “data checking”. In fact, it is a proper interview held with the applicant about the very detail of his/her professional and private life, including questions regarding his/her family life, past, hobbies and everyday life in Hungary, worldview, income, housing, political opinion, religion and future plans etc. There are only hand-written notes taken by the questioning officer, but there is no copy of it served to the applicant. Since the procedure is not transparent, the interview’s role as to the result of the decision is not clear.
During the procedure the applicant might have a legal representative. As per HHC though, the lawyer is not informed about any procedural steps. The Government Office of Budapest communicates exclusively with the applicant.
There is no procedural deadline set out in the law concerning the maximum deadline for issuing a decision, although the Government Office of Budapest shall forward the applications for naturalisation to the Minister of Interior within three months. In practice, the general procedural time takes at least approximately one year.
As the law states, decisions in connection with petitions for the acquisition of Hungarian citizenship by way of naturalisation or repatriation shall be adopted by the President of the Republic based on the recommendation of the Minister of Interior.
The President of the Republic shall issue a certificate of naturalisation attesting the acquisition of Hungarian citizenship. Subsequently, the applicant must take a citizenship oath or pledge of allegiance, for which the mayor of the district of his/her residence shall send the invitation. The naturalised person shall acquire Hungarian citizenship on the date of taking the oath or pledge of allegiance.
In practice, the applicant has to wait for a long time – meaning at least a year– for a decision. Since the decision on granting citizenship is not an administrative one, it cannot be appealed, nor can judicial review be mounted against the decision. Therefore, the procedure for naturalisation lacks the provision of information and the most basic procedural safeguards of transparency, accountability and fairness. The experience of the Menedék Association confirms the aforementioned, as according to them, besides some positive decisions, several applications of which applicants with substantially similar background were rejected in the last years. In January 2020 some rejected applicants submitted complaints to the Ombudsman objecting the lack of reasoning provided by the Government Office. As a result of the procedure, the Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights of Hungary issued a decision pointing out a few reasons why the applicants’ petitions were rejected. This positive development did not last for long though. As per the Menedék Association in the rest of the year, the Ombudsman rejected the complaints by claiming that he cannot review the procedure of the President of the Republic (despite that the complaint concerned the procedure prior to the decision of the President).
Those refugee children and children with subsidiary protection who were born in Hungary and did not obtain their parents’ citizenship by birth might obtain Hungarian citizenship by declaration taken five years after his/her birth under the Citizenship Act provided that his/her parents had Hungarian domicile at the time of his/her birth. As opposed to the naturalisation procedure described above, if the Government Office of Budapest rejects the declaration the applicant has a possibility to request a judicial review. The HHC is aware of one declaration submitted in the autumn of 2020. There is no decision issued yet.
In 2020, 70 beneficiaries of international protection applied for Hungarian citizenship (54 refugees and 16 beneficiaries of subsidiary protection). In the same year 18 (8 Afghan nationals and 2 Somalian nationals, the other 8 beneficiaries were of different nationalities) refugees and 6 (3 Afghan, 1 Guinean, 1 Syrian and 1 unknown citizen) subsidiary protection beneficiaries obtained citizenship. The applications of beneficiaries of international protection were rejected in 75 cases. The applications of 62 refugees (breakdown by the three main nationalities was 22 Afghan, 9 unknown and 6 Iraqis/Syrian) and 13 beneficiaries of subsidiary protection (10 Afghan, 2 Ukrainian and 1 Iraqis). Compared to 2020 the number of citizenship grants has decreased by almost 30%, while the figure of rejection increased by almost 40%. The number of applicants showed a 15% decrease in 2020 in comparison with the previous year.
 Section 4(2) Citizenship Act.
 Section 17(4) Asylum Act.
 Section 4/A(2)(b) Citizenship Act
 Section 17(2) Citizenship Act.
 Section 6(1) Citizenship Act.
 Section 4(2) Citizenship Act.
 HHC, The Black Box of Nationality, 2016.
 Section 5/A (1) (b) Citizenship Act.
 Section 5/A (3) Citizenship Act.
 Information provided by the Registry of the Government Office of Budapest, 16 January 2020.