Although the free movement of workers has been a fundamental principle of the European Union since its foundation, it has not yet been successful to the same extent as in the U.S., for instance. This trend can also be observed in Hungary, where there has been no intensive emigration to other EU Member States since accession in 2004, according to a new study by Oeconomus. The research also shows that although emigration from the country accelerated in the early 2010s, the trend reversed in 2016, with fewer people leaving Hungary each year.
In addition to examining the background to the free movement of labor within the European Union, the economic think tank’s latest study also sought answers to the emigration trends in Hungary over the past 20 years. The authors did not have an easy task in their research, because, as they point out, international migration data is uncertain. This means that, although countries have accurate information on immigrants, emigrants often do not declare whether they are leaving the country permanently.
The analysis points out that most of the newly joined central and eastern European countries in 2004 experienced a sudden and rapid migration towards more developed countries, while Hungary did not show a spike in the numbers. The outflows accelerated after 2010, and the number of Hungarian citizens leaving the country increased until 2015. At its peak in 2015, nearly 33,000 emigrated from Hungary. This was four and a half times the 2010 figure.
However, from 2016 onwards the trend reversed, with fewer and fewer people leaving the country each year.
International migration of Hungarian citizens. Source: Oeconomus
The number of remigrants born in Hungary has risen steadily since 2011, with a slight dip due to the epidemic (2019-2021). As for the net balance of emigrating and returning Hungarians, it was negative until 2018, i.e. more emigrated than returned from abroad in a given year. However, the trend reversed between 2019 and 2021, with more people returning to Hungary from abroad than emigrating. While it is true that the number of emigrants increased again in 2021-2022, in this case there is no trend reversal. These years were all about lifting the restrictions imposed by the epidemic and restoring freedom of movement across borders.
The remigration of Hungarians living abroad has greatly improved the migration balance. The study also highlights another important factor: the immigration of Hungarian citizens born abroad.
Immigration of Hungarian citizens living across the border who have acquired dual citizenship and of foreign-born Hungarians strongly influences the statistics.
This has pushed the overall balance of international migration of Hungarian citizens in a positive direction: while the KSH (Hungarian Central Statistical Office) data shows a negative migration margin for Hungarians between 2010 and 2015, since 2016, the trend has reversed and turned positive. Since then, overall, more Hungarian citizens have been migrating into and out of Hungary than leaving.
It is also worth noting that according to Eurostat’s LFS (Labor Force Survey) data, the employment rate of emigrated Hungarians is very high, indicating that
emigration from Hungary is largely economic and employment-related.
Based on the results of Eurobarometer 2022, a questionnaire survey, one in five Europeans can imagine working abroad in the future, with the majority (60%) planning to do so in the next five years. Among Hungarian respondents, 27% could imagine working abroad, with family ties being the biggest deterrent.
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