The number of guest workers in Hungary reached 95,000 in September, up from 82,500 in the same period a year ago and rising from 60,000-70,000 before the pandemic, according to official data from statistics office KSH, financial portal Portfolio.hu reported. Based on the current trends of a monthly growth of 1,000, the number could reach 100,000 in early 2024.
Over the last three years, the number of foreign workers from EU and EFTA states (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland) has decreased slightly, while the number of arrivals from third countries has increased from 35,000 to 73,000,
Hungarian recruitment agencies have experienced rising demand coming mostly from large companies and many now specialise in bringing Asian workers to Hungary.
It is large companies that have the necessary resources and administrative apparatus, and contacts to hire workers from abroad, while SMEs are discouraged by the costs or procedures, they said.
Hungarian labour reserves could ideally be sufficient to fill 100,000-150,000 jobs, but rising industrial capacities could require up to 500,000 new workers. This figure is in line with the projections of the government.
The cabinet eased labour rules for third-country nationals earlier this year to mitigate the chronic shortage facing all sectors, though mainly manufacturing industry.
Until now, companies had the option to employ workers through intermediaries with an expedited administrative process. This simplified procedure covers 15 countries, along with Ukraine and Serbia, which collectively make up a quarter of the foreign workforce.
In mid-November, a draft law submitted to parliament would tighten regulations on immigration and on employment of foreign citizens. The question is how new legislation would influence the pace of arrivals, leaders of recruitment agencies told Portfolio.hu.
Foreigners may take on jobs only if there are no Hungarian applicants for the position, and the number of guest workers brought in may not exceed the number of vacancies, according to the proposal.
The bill introduces a new categorisation of workers. In the seasonal category, they may arrive for six months, which can be extended by another six-month period.
It also introduces the category of guest workers brought in to carry out a project. They can stay in the country until the project is completed but for a maximum of 3 years.
It retains the category of guest workers for employment purposes with a 2+1 year stay. Crossover between categories is not possible.
Economists note that the Hungarian economy will likely need more foreign guest workers due to the falling demographics as the number of active workers is shrinking by 25,000-30,000 each year, while a string of new greenfield investments require more workers.
Many argue that the employment of foreign workers could potentially safeguard the jobs of Hungarians, as companies might face operational closures if they fail to secure an adequate workforce.
The arrival of foreign workers, mainly from Asia, is creating tensions in rural Hungary, according to a report by the French daily Le Monde, which covered the story with the byline: "Behind hostile immigration propaganda, Hungary welcomes foreign workers."
Mayors of the ruling Fidesz party are worried that the mass arrival of non-European workforce could hurt their chances in the 2024 local government elections, held concurrently with the EP elections. Viktor Orban's aggressive anti-immigration rhetoric over the years has sparked hostility against people with Muslim backgrounds.