Doubts and proofs – Hungarian student life in the UK after Brexit

It is well known fact that Great Britain exited the European Union on 1 January 2021. „Nothing will change for Hungarians living in the UK after Brexit”, said Iain Lindsay, British ambassador to Hungary before Brexit.[1] He added that the UK has the biggest Hungarian-born population outside the Carpathian Basin and is the second or third largest destination for Hungarian students.

However, it must be noted that EU citizens have lost a number of benefits. Workers now have to comply with stricter residency rules, and they face a heavier administrative burden, which affects around 160,000 Hungarian citizens.[2] Young people are also affected by the changes. Prior to Brexit, the EU banned discrimination on the basis of citizenship and it gave EU students “domestic” tuition status. After Great Britain left the EU, the ban was lifted and EU students were given a new “overseas” status. As a consequence, the conditions have also changed: while the UK was a member of the EU, the maximum university tuition fee was £9250 (EUR 10,200), there was also a reduced student loan and no need for separate health insurance or a visa. Since Brexit, however, they have either been discontinued or their costs are significantly higher. After Brexit the tuition fees can range from £25,000 to £40,000 (EUR 38,000-44,000). Another £348 (EUR 386) for a visa is required, and one also has to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge, which is an extra £470 pounds (EUR 520) compared to pre-Brexit time. Previously, the tuition fees could be covered in total by a student loan, which is now not available and which has been used by 85-90% of the Hungarian students studying in UK.[3]

In the light of the above mentioned it is not surprising, that the number of Hungarian students studying in the UK has fallen dramatically since Brexit. In 2021, 95%!!! fewer Hungarian students start university in the UK than in the previous year. “While in the year 2020–2021, around 705 students were admitted out of around 1,100 applicants, in the 2021–2022 academic year only 450 students applied out of which 190 have been admitted but eventually only 60 began their studies”, told Soma Pirityi, co-founder of the Hungarian Youth Association (HYA).[4] According to him before Brexit 2,500–3,000 Hungarian students studied in the UK each academic year, brought together by organizations such as the Milestone Institute, the HYA or the New Generation Centre with the aim to bring home to Hungary those students who have graduated from top-ranked British universities. HYA estimates that after Brexit this process will be completed, after 2021, a maximum of 1-2 Hungarian students per university will be appear.

The facts described above were confirmed by our interviewee, who graduated from a university in London: “I wanted to do a one-year master’s course, because here a master’s is only one year. So I was of the opinion that one year is nothing, especially after three years, which I have already done….. And so far the tuition fees have been the same as for the English. And for that you had a student loan with very, very favourable conditions. But this has now been abolished….. And that’s why I didn’t enroll for a master’s degree. I think that’s why a lot fewer people come to study here. I have friends who wanted to study here, but they don’t come here anymore. Due to the unfavorable conditions. They either stay in Hungary or go to other countries to study.” (Young Hungarian girl)

Consequently, it can be stated that Brexit has affected not only trade or labour workers, but also university students, which also triggered new social processes in both countries.






“Just don’t meet any Hungarians.” Informal Hungarian community in Great Britain

In one of our previous posts we provided a brief overview of Hungarian community life based on formal institutions. Now, with the help of some interview excerpts, we would like to present how Hungarians living in Great Britain perceive each other and how the Hungarian informal community life works. Importantly, we do not claim that this is the general perception of Hungarians living in the UK towards their compatriots. Not only because the interviewees we talked with belong to a particular social group (mainly low-status workers), but also because the number of interviews does not allow us to form a complex picture on this issue. Nevertheless, from the 30 interviews we conducted, we have collected the opinions that were most frequently voiced.

One of the opinions often expressed by our informants was that the Hungarian community in Great Britain doesn’t hold together at all, “they don’t really like each other” and “they are often ashamed of each other.

“- So here the Hungarians, as I noticed, are ashamed of each other. Well, to be honest, there is a reason for that. Therefore, they are not very much looking for a relationship with each other. For example, the Hungarian parents who enrolled their children in school mostly met Hungarians only there. They could talk to each other only there.

– Did they make friends while the school lesson lasted?

– Oh well. Until they get to know each other better. But, for example, if two Hungarian children attend a common class at a London school, they will not be friends either.” (Hungarian teacher in the Hungarian supplementary school in London)

We tried to understand the cause of this phenomenon, and most responses suggested that Hungarians often deceive or exploit each other. According to one of our interviewees, there are many Hungarian-related “dark agencies” in London, where Hungarian employees are cheated and exploited. These agencies do not officially declare employees, do not pay taxes on them, so the employees have no rights, they have no national insurance number or tax number, they cannot complain to anyone etc. These “dark agencies” usually employ Hungarians who do not plan to stay in Great Britain for a long time, have low qualifications and speak English poorly.

“Unfortunately, we are the only nation who take advantage of each other in a foreign country and who do not help each other. I was deceived by many of my compatriots, so I avoid Hungarians in the UK.” (Middle-aged Hungarian man)

Another explanation for why Hungarians do not seek each other’s company could be the following:

“I didn’t move to England to make friends with Hungarians. I am not saying that I am not looking for the company of Hungarians, but rather I am looking for the company of foreigners. I would like to improve my English language skills.” (Young Hungarian man)

We’ve also heard many times from our interviewees that because they work a lot, they simply don’t have time to live a social life.

In general, we can say that Hungarians living in Great Britain are members of different informal Hungarian communities (especially local Hungarian-related facebook groups), but overall they do not keep in touch, they don’t participate in Hungarian community programs and few of them is involved in the Hungarian community.


Cultural institutions as scenes of Hungarian community life in Great Britain

In our research, we paid attention to compile data about the Hungarian community life in Great Britain. We were curious about how active the community life is and to how intense the networking is between Hungarians.

The conversations revealed that above all we must separate social life organized under the umbrella of official cultural institutions and the informal, bottom-up initiatives. In this post, we give a brief summary of the former one.

Official institutions

Hungarian official institutions are concentrated in London, where sizeable Hungarian community lives. In the other parts of Great Britain mostly informal institutions and organizations operate mainly on social media platforms.

One of these Hungarian institutions is the Hungarian Cultural Centre in London which organizes and supports a wide spectrum of programmes to promote Hungarian art and artists in the UK, and to disseminate Hungarian culture. Another important formal institution is the National Federation of Hungarians in England. It provides training in the Hungarian language and the history and geography of Hungary. It also offers courses in Hungarian art, culture and heritage of Hungary, and celebrates its traditions and customs.

Saint Stephan House in London, that hosts the Hungarian catholic community, also must be mentioned. Apart from that diverse cultural programs, traditional religious and national holidays are also organized here (Easter Ball, Harvest Festival, Christmas Fair, art exhibitions, historical commemorations, etc.). Besides Roman Catholic community the Calvinist Church is also active in London. Beyond the religious celebrations they organize different community programmes too.

From the point of view of the Hungarian community life we must mention the supplementary Hungarian schools as well, which we briefly introduced in our previous post. It is important because “during the lessons, parents are waiting in the corridors; they chat and get acquainted. However, these relationships break off beyond the walls of school.”

Unofficial initiatives

Out of these we can highlight the followings: Hungarians in England, Information page for Hungarians living in London or A helpful community of Hungarians. On these websites a plenty of useful information is collected regarding bureaucracy and administration, employment or education opportunities. In addition, Hungarian scouts and folk dance groups also exist. They are typical examples of bottom-up initiatives launched by active members of the community. According to our interviewees mainly these groups are more frequently visited by those Hungarians who have recently moved to England “and who haven’t integrated into the native society. They still insist on Hungarian culture and language.”

In addition to the above-mentioned informal initiatives, lots of facebook groups exist. Most of them are used for keeping everyday contact between the Hungarians living in different cities. In the next post, we will give a brief review of the latter one, focusing on the community cohesion of Hungarians living in England.


What does Brexit mean for (and not only) Hungarians? Let’s talk about practicalities!

The previous post about Hungary described that in the last couple of years the United Kingdom has become one of the most attractive destinations in Western Europe for Hungarians migrants. The number of Hungarians permanently residing in the UK was around 100,000 in 2020 (however, presumably there is a significant group of Hungarian citizens, who do not appear in the statistics: they work seasonally and circulate between Hungary and the UK).

Brexit happened, that is a fact. But how does it will affect the everyday life and employment opportunities of Hungarians living in the UK? If we take into account the opinions of the nearly 30 interviewees we have asked in 2020, then we could say: in general, by no means. In most cases, we heard responses such as: “It doesn’t affect my future life here at all” or “It will only be difficult for those who come to England after Brexit. I’m safe”. Under to the rules in force today, Hungarians (and other EU citizens) who had been living in the UK before the Brexit became official (31 January 2020) or during the subsequent transitional period (between January and the end of December 2020) can easily arrange the necessary paperwork which allows them to stay in the UK, without any restrictions. First, they must apply for settled status or pre-settled status by 30 June 2021 (former applies for those who has been living for more than 5 years in the UK and the latter for those who has been living less than five years in the country). According to our respondents, this process is not particularly complicated; it can be done simply and quickly, on line or by using an application. In case any problem arose, they could rely on the efficient help of officers, administrators.

What if I wish to work in the UK after the Brexit?

It seems that staying and working in the UK should not be a problem for our compatriots (or for other EU citizens) who has arrived before the Brexit, including unskilled workers. However, the new regulations in force from 2021 brought about serious limitations, which concern potential migrants, so let’s take a look at the main changes.

As Paul Fox, the UK Ambassador to Hungary mentioned, after the Brexit a new point-based system will be applied to assess employment applications for EU citizens, including Hungarians. He pointed out, that “after Brexit, we had to restrict free employment in some way. And this applies not only to Hungarians, but to all EU citizens equally. It is a system that ensures equal treatment. It is different from the previous system, when anyone was free to take a job.”[1] In the new point-based system the most important thing is to have an actual job offer (20 points), but equally crucial the degree of education of the applicant (20 points). In addition, there is a strong emphasis on whether someone speaks English (10 points). The other points can be obtained with the salary levels corresponding to the promised position or with more marketable diplomas (e.g. PhD). The potential employee has to score seventy points to get a work permit. “With the point-based system we want to find the best workforce and attract them to our country, which is why qualification is very important in valuation”, told Fox.

The new system allows potential migrants to apply for various visas. The “top” visa category is the Global Talent visa, which allows highly skilled workers to enter the UK without a job offer, suggesting that the legislature is confident that they will find a job anyway. A Skilled Worker visa requires at least B1 level language exam and a job offer corresponding to the qualification. In addition there is also the category of skilled labor: the Healthcare visa, which is treated separately due to labor shortages in the UK in health and social sectors. In sum, the above mentioned types of visa are available to skilled workers, who have job offer, and speak English.[2]

What if I wish to study in the UK after the Brexit?

First of all, tuition fees for Hungarian (and other non-UK) citizens will increase drastically from the 2021/22 school year. In addition, it will no longer be possible to apply for a student loan. Who decides to study in the UK must apply for a student visa, which means an additional 812 £ (about 870 €) extra cost. Furthermore, no agreement has been reached on the mutual acceptance of higher education diplomas. In practice it means that diplomas of EU citizens who have already worked or studied in England before 1 January 2021 will continue to be automatically accepted. However, those arriving after 1st January 2021 are required to have diplomas recognized by the appointed UK authority, which is a significant change. In addition, the United Kingdom will not participate in the Erasmus program in the future (they found it too expensive). As a result, the number of foreign (and thus Hungarian) students in the country may decrease. [3]

In the further phase of the research our task is to find out what changes (if any) Brexit brought to Hungarians living in the UK.

[1] Author’s translation. Source: