As part of our efforts to monitor access to the COVID-19 vaccines for undocumented migrants in Europe, we’re speaking with national-level advocates about the situation in their countries. This interview was conducted in April 2021 with Vivien Vadasi of Menedék to discuss the situation in Hungary. It is not meant to offer an exhaustive picture of the legal and practical context in Hungary. Please get in touch at email@example.com if you have information you’d like to share, and follow our Twitter page @PICUM_post to get more recent updates.
What does the Hungarian vaccination strategy say about undocumented migrants?
The Hungarian strategy is a very short document that describes the order of vaccination, in terms of priority groups, but doesn’t mention at all undocumented migrants, or foreigners for that matter. Last February, we asked the government to clarify who’s eligible for the vaccination and what are the plans to reach out and provide vaccinations to foreigners in Hungary. They replied that they’ll propose legislation on this, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Would undocumented migrants still be able to access the vaccines in practice? How does the registration work?
Registering for the vaccines can be done online. The website, which is only in Hungarian, requires a home address, which can be hard to impossible for undocumented migrants to prove.
As of May 4, foreigners living in Hungary without a social security number (TAJ) can register for their vaccines too. But details of residence papers and identity documents are also asked, but it doesn’t look mandatory to fill in those fields. We do know however, from official sources, that the registration data would be checked against the data in the immigration register. This obviously poses great risks for undocumented migrants.
OK, let’s start with the home address. How does that work?
Well, you could theoretically type a fake address online and get your appointment, but at the vaccination centre they’ll ask for a proof of address. Homeless people can get a “territorial address” card, which indicates what district they usually live in, and produce this at the vaccination point. But this card isn’t accessible for all migrants, let alone undocumented migrants. It is also not possible to use an NGO address as a replacement.
So home address is a huge barrier already. What about the social security number?
In Hungary, a social security number is issued for Hungarian nationals, EU nationals and their family members, permanent residents and beneficiaries of international protection. People with work-related residence permits, thus contributing to social security, can also get one. But their family members, or students paying their own fees can only get a social security number if they’re contributing ten times as much as the mainstream population for 25 months. So most of them end up buying private health care insurance. Undocumented people do not qualify for a social security card either as one of the conditions is the (legal) residence in Hungary.
Recent legislation introduced even stricter rules to access social security. Now, if you don’t pay social security contributions for the equivalent of six months, your social security number becomes invalid. The government has clarified that people with an invalid social security number can still access the vaccines, but the question remains for those who don’t have any such number.
Again, when trying to register for your vaccine online, in theory, you could insert a string of 0s in the social security number case as a workaround. You’d be able to book your appointment, but at the vaccination centre you’ll be asked for your social security number, nonetheless.
Right. So undocumented migrants wouldn’t be able to provide either a home address or a social security number.
Indeed. By design, undocumented migrants aren’t able to get the vaccines. In addition, at the vaccination point, you would also be asked for an identification document, that is an ID card for Hungarians and a residence permit for non-national residents, which is one more obstacle for undocumented migrants.
Is immigration enforcement involved at any point when trying to access the vaccines?
In general, health professionals aren’t required to inform immigration enforcement authorities of the migration status of patients. But in practice, the social security number and card remain a pre-condition to receive medical treatment, beyond urgent life-saving care.
- The Hungarian strategy provides for a priority list (that is in practice not respected) of people who should receive the vaccination:
1.Healthcare workers (including students at medical universities and all of those who work in the sector, i.e. cleaners as well)
2. Professionals in the social care sector and beneficiaries of social care (while this category seems to be very inclusive, in practice, the government focused on social and care workers working in homes of the elderly and also those elderly who are placed in these homes. Nevertheless, also workers and inhabitants of homeless shelters received vaccination in some cases.)
3. People aged 60 years or older who fall in the high-risk group due to their health condition
4. Staff of the law-enforcement and government authorities (police, including border police and the immigration authority, administrative officials, etc.) who are in direct contact with the population
5. People aged 16/18-59 living falling in the high-risk group due to their health condition
6. Professionals working in the critical infrastructure (there was not much information about what sectors fall in that category)
7. The rest of the population who do not fall in the categories above
The priority list also lays down that the vaccination of people falling in category 2 and 4 should not depend on their registration on the official website but should be organized separately (on the contrary, my social worker colleagues had to register on the official website in order to be able to receive the vaccination). Category 1 also received vaccination independently from the official online registration system.
Cover: Abode Stock – EdNurg