US threatens end to Hungary visa waivers after passport 'fraud': Report

BUDAPEST: The United States could scrap visa waivers for Hungarian citizens after officials uncovered a fraud scheme that has let non-Hungarians enter the US under false identities, a report published in US and Hungarian media said Thursday.

A "vulnerability" in the EU member state's passport system has led to "security breaches", said US officials cited in a joint article by The Washington Post newspaper and Direkt36, a Hungarian website.

According to a US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) document obtained by the paper, some 700 non-Hungarians fraudulently obtained authentic Hungarian passports and assumed the identities of the original passport holders.

"The most obvious risk here is that people are coming to the US who have a reason to disguise their identity," said a former DHS official quoted in the report.

Officials believe criminals acquired the authentic documents thanks to loose citizenship requirements under a new simplified citizenship process for ethnic-Hungarians abroad.

They are then able to sell them on to customers seeking to enter the US illegally, potentially even Russian spies or Islamist terrorists.

Over a million people have become naturalised Hungarians since 2011 thanks to the fast-track system brought in by the government of Hungary's nationalist leader Viktor Orban, in power since 2010.

Most are from countries neighbouring Hungary where around two million ethnic-Hungarians live, a legacy of a post-World War I treaty that shrank the country's borders.

Orban, re-elected for a third consecutive term as premier last month, has long courted ethnic-Hungarians abroad and, as well as passports, given them voting rights in general elections.

Some 65 from the 700 entered the US under its visa waiver scheme, which grants three-month visa-free entry to citizens of 38 countries for business or tourism purposes.

Despite efforts by the DHS to find and deport them, some 30 of the group remained unaccounted for last October, although the current number of those at large was not disclosed in the report.

Hungarian passport-holders can travel visa-free to the US, as well as freely throughout the EU's Schengen zone that includes 22 of the bloc's 28 member states.

DHS officials have warned Hungary that it could be "kicked off" the visa waiver programme if it fails to correct the problem, said the report.

A statement by Hungary's interior ministry said that discussions with the DHS are "ongoing".

The Hungarian government have not yet responded to a request for comment by AFP. β€” AFP