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Sitting on the Fence – Will Brexit Curb Immigration from Hungary?
| Kasia Pinska

Sitting on the Fence – Will Brexit Curb Immigration from Hungary?

On June 24, 2016, I woke up to acknowledge the verdict of the UK electorate: the Leave supporters outnumbered the Remain campaigners, demanding the United Kingdom ends its membership of the European Union. After the first shock, the obvious question: what will change for me, a Hungarian citizen in London?

What joining the EU meant for the Hungarian?

For my Hungarian contemporaries born in the eighties, EU membership is not a ‘given and forever existing’ reality as it might be for Millennial Hungarians or citizens of the founding Member States. We still have vivid memories of living in ‘the olden days’, Hungary having joined the EU a little more than ten years ago.

We still remember how excited we were, looking at the giant clocks set up in the major squares of Budapest, counting down to May 1, 2004, the day of accession. On this day, a new world began for us: besides the obvious political and economical changes, being part of the EU means:

  • being able to visit our friends abroad without having to request permits and waiting for hours at the border;
  • studying in prestigious schools all over Europe thanks to the Erasmus Scholarship; and
  • working abroad, in a multicultural environment, without having to wait in line for a residence and work permit.
We still remember, in fact, how it felt being marked as ‘extra-communitarian’ in an otherwise united Europe.
Right to free movement – Why the UK?
Our enthusiasm for a Europe without frontiers is reflected in the figures: according to the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, the number of Hungarians living and working in the UK alone has doubled since the country’s accession to the EU in 2004. Our attraction to this country is partly explained by the predominance of English as the foreign language in Hungary, but also by the well-known fact that during and after World War II the UK warmly welcomed many Hungarian émigrés and political refugees.
According to recent statistics, the number of Hungarians permanently working in the UK now exceeds 100,000, making London the fifth biggest Hungarian city in Europe. We, the ’new wave’ of Hungarians arrive with different backgrounds and goals: some of us come out of the passion for the British culture, others to make a better living. We are among the elite graduating from Oxford and Cambridge, the NHS doctors assisting patients and the waitresses working at Cafe Nero. We are members of the British upper, middle and working classes – yet we are now confronted with the same questions:
  • Will we have to leave if the UK decides to leave the EU?
  • Will we be required to prove that we were legally residing and working in the UK in order to continue doing so? Will we be able to prove this?
  • Will we have to apply for residence or work permits?
  • Will those working in industries with skills shortages find themselves in a more advantageous position?
  • Will our children have the opportunity to study in the UK, or will their options depend on the discretion of a visa officer?
What will Brexit change?
Brexit will certainly have an impact on the life of my Hungarian compatriots already living in the UK, but will also affect those still in Hungary dreaming of experiencing the British way of life.
Unless a specific measure from the UK government is implemented, it is unlikely that the Hungarians already in the UK will leave the country en masse out of fear of insecurity: even the programme of the Hungarian government "Come home, youth!" – aiming at persuading young Hungarian émigrés to return home – seems to have failed, despite the financial incentives facilitating relocation back to the motherland.

On the other hand, it seems likely that even more Hungarians will hit the road to the UK within the next two years, before the borders shut down, availing themselves of their right of free movement while they still can.

What will change for us? We don’t know yet. What we do know is that we will continue seeking an answer to our questions – whether living in the UK or on the other side of the fence.

Should you have any question in relation to immigration solutions for EU nationals, please contact your Fragomen representative for a consultation.