Dejan S. blog
Case one: You want residence? You better don’t travel too much!
I was one of close to 200,000 youth who left Serbia in 1991 after Milosevic sent tanks to curb down the pro-democracy demonstrations in Serbia and sparked a decade of wars in Yugoslavia. At that time I saw Hungary only as the first step on my way to Canada –by 1995 I finished MBA studies at the Technical University of Budapest and was granted the Canadian Landed Immigrant status. At that time, however, I started freelancing in the newly established Open Society Institute (OSI) in Budapest. The work was exciting – we built a new future in the region. I postponed my Canadian immigration by a year, and then finally dropped it in 1996, and accepted a full time job at the OSI. By 1999, I was promoted to Director of Communications and transferred to their New York Office.
In 2001, after almost two years in New York, as political changes took place in Yugoslavia (Milosevic lost the October 2000 elections), I was seconded by OSI to work for the newly established Yugoslav Government and to help it re-establish the contacts with foreign media. By 2003, I left the government and started working as consultant for the World Bank, Open Society Institute and a number of other clients. I decided to move back to Hungary, where I owned an apartment since 1999, and start my own consultancy business.
Because of the break in residence, I had to start the process from the beginning: from an annually renewed “temporary resident” – a status that does not even entitle one to a post-paid telephone subscription. After three full years I submitted an application for a permanent residence permit, which was refused – because of too many days spent out of the country. Due to my consultancy business I had to travel extensively – mostly in the countries of Central Asia, the former Soviet Union and the Balkans. The Hungarian Immigration Office routinely checks applicants’ passports and counts the number of days spent out of the country – I had more than 90 in one of the three years and was refused for that reason. It must be also understood that the days on the exit and entry stamps are considered as days spent outside of the country, so it is enough to have over 40 one-day trips abroad to exceed the limit. They would not accept a statement issued and signed by me, under full criminal liability, confirming that those travels were work-related.
I hired a lawyer and we decided to file an official complaint, furnished with statements from my clients confirming exactly the dates and days I spent travelling for them on different projects. The International Finance Organization (World Bank), the Open Society Institute, the Hungarian Government-founded International Centre for Democratic Transition, Freedom House, and the Centre for Independent Journalism– are only some of the organizations that issued more than a dozen statements confirming that I travelled to Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Ukraine not for leisure or because I lived there but – for business purposes. It worked out and in 2009 I finally got my “letelepedési engedély” (Hungarian permanent residence permit).
It has been four years ever since. I will have to wait another four before I submit a citizenship application, as the three years that preceded the issuance of the permanent residence permit do not count in the eight years that are required for naturalisation.
My story is illustrative of several issues:
- Lack of immigration policy in Hungary. In the time when tens of thousands of young and educated Hungarians are leaving the country to take jobs in the EU, which is a disastrous trend for the national economy, there is someone with high educational credentials, knowledge of Hungarian and an international job record, who wants to settle in Hungary - and he is met by totally inadequate immigration rules and authorities. Had I been a truck driver travelling the world for a Hungarian employer, I would get a residence against a statement from my supervisor that my travel is work-related. As a business owner and my own boss, I cannot get that paper from anyone and am hence refused residence.
- Bureaucratic attitude and reluctance of immigration officers to make decision in an unusual, though clear, case. A mid-level clerk refused my original application. The head of the Immigration Directorate reviews all complaints and he/she finally approved my case.
Case two: Can a permanent resident purchase real estate without government permission? Depends if she is an “immigrant” or a “settled person”… although the two terms mean the same… or maybe not!
Two acquaints with Hungarian permanent residence recently had similar problems when buying apartments: different lawyers and even different public officials would give them contradicting information on their right to buy property in Hungary.
The Hungarian 2007 Law on Foreigners recognizes three categories of third-country nationals: short-term residents, Hungarian permanent residence holders (“Letelepedett” or “Settled person”) and EU permanent residence holders. The introduction of the “letelepedett” as a legal status fully replaced the previous “bevándorolt” (“immigrant”) category.
A 1996 government directive on sales of real estate stipulates that foreigners need a permission to buy property in Hungary. The permission is issued by the local government offices and takes time (one month) and money (50,000 Forints – 170 Euros in March 2013). However, there seems to exist confusion about what “foreigner” means: does it include “immigrants” or “settled persons”, or both, or neither of them? The Budapest Local Government Office (BFKH) on its website http://www.bfkh.hu/oszt_hat_kulf.htm (accessed on March 1, 2013) says that since the law excludes only the immigrants and the refugees from the purchasing permission procedure, all settled foreigners with a permanent residence permit (“letelepedési engedély”) need a permission to buy an apartment in Hungary, because, according to BFKH, “letelepedett” is not the same as “bevándorolt”. The Land Registry (a national institution) however is of different opinion: if a buyer is a settled foreigner with a permanent residence permit (“letelepedési engedély”), they will execute the change of ownership of an apartment against a purchasing contract alone and without any permission.
This story is illustrative of either lack of law synchronization, or lack of communication between different branches of government… or both!
This article is one of the migrants’ contributions to the project Migration to the Centre and was created with the cooperation of the Center for Independent Journalism Budapest.
The article has been written with support of the Europe for Citizens Programme of the European Union and the International Visegrad Fund. The article reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.