Jon E. Fox, University of California – San Diego
Introduction: Large numbers of ethnic Hungarians from Romania have been working illegally on and off in Hungary since the regime changes in 1989-1990. In 2001, Hungary passed legislation, the so-called “Status Law,” that granted the transborder Hungarians the right to work in Hungary three months out of each calendar year. But in preparation for joining the European Union in May 2004, the law has been gradually dismantled in accordance with the EU’s strictures against ethnic-based entitlements. Over the last decade and a half, ethnic Hungarian migrants have received mixed signals from Hungary. On the one hand, initiatives such as the Status Law have sought to symbolically incorporate transborder Hungarians into the fold of a greater Hungarian cultural nation. On the other hand, the erection of a new European boundary between Hungary and its neighbors (preceded by tight immigration controls in place since the early 1990s) has made it increasingly difficult for the transborder Hungarians to enjoy the legal benefits of Hungarian citizenship. While macro-political developments in this domain have received increased scholarly attention in recent years (see, e.g., Fowler 2002; Kántor 2002; Lukács and Király 2001; Stewart 2003; Wallace and Stola 2001), the way in which these changes affect the lives of ordinary migrants has not been systematically studied. The aim of the present paper is to explain how these shifting and ambiguous political contexts impact the trajectories, experiences, and self-understandings of undocumented ethnic Hungarian migrants from Romania working in Hungary.