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 examination in basic constitutional studies in the Hungarian language, or of his or her exemption from such examination.
The minimum period of residence prior to the naturalisation application is shorter for a number of categories of applicants who are treated preferentially. Recognised refugees and stateless persons are two of the categories benefitting from preferential treatment, and are required to have resided in Hungary continuously for a 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 troubles fulfilling 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 of applying 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-longprevious 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.
Applications for citizenship had been adjudicated by the former IAO until the end of 2016. Pursuant to legislative changes, since the beginning of 2017, citizenship is examined by the Government Office of Budapest. The petition can be submitted at any local government office, which transfers the case file to the Government Office of Budapest.
On the authentication of foreign documents – the relevant obligation of the authentication being provided by Section 14(5)(a) – that might result in difficulties in case of refugees the study on Hungarian nationalisation written in 2016 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.
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.
There is an ex lege practice of the Government Office of Budapest, according to that the authority summons the applicant for a “data checking”. In fact, there is a proper interview held with the applicant about the very detail of his or her professional and private life, including questions regarding his or 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 decision is not clear.
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.
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 or 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 fair procedure. The experience of Menedék Association confirms the aforementioned, as according to them, besides some positive decisions, several application with substantially similar background were rejected in the last year.
In 2019, 82 beneficiaries of international protection applied for Hungarian citizenship. In the same year 23 (breakdown by the three main nationalities was 5 Iraqis, 4 Afghan and 4 Iranian) refugees and 11 (breakdown by the three main nationalities was 3 Afghan, 2 Egyptian and 2 unknown citizen) subsidiary protection beneficiaries obtained citizenship. The applications of beneficiaries of international protection were rejected in 54 (breakdown by the three main nationalities was 26 Afghan, 5 Russian and 4 Iraqis) cases. Compared to 2018 the number of citizenship grants has almost doubled, while the figure of rejection grew only with two cases. The number of applicants showed a 17% increase in 2019 in comparison with the previous year.
Section 4(2) Citizenship Act.
Section 17(4) Asylum Act.
Section 6(1) Citizenship Act.
Section 17(2) Citizenship Act.
Section 4(2) Citizenship Act.
HHC, The Black Box of Nationality, 2016.
Information provided by the Registry of the Government Office of Budapest, 16 January 2020.