Hungary's New Immigration Tax: Pay if You Have a Different Opinion

Critics of the new tax say it is intended solely to disrupt the work of NGOs and others who don’t share the government’s opinion on migration.

In addition to changing the Fundamental Law and the Penal Code through legislation dubbed the “Stop Soros” law (analyzed here), the Hungarian government has also adopted a new tax, called the "special immigration tax."

The new tax amounts to nothing but a severe restriction on the freedom of speech: those that are supporting immigration in a professional way (doing so in an organized framework, as a calling, while using money from supporters) can, from now on, only do so if they pay a special, 25% tax.

The "Stop Soros" law threatens human rights defenders and lobbyists with prison, while the new taxation represents an existential threat for organizations active on immigration. It puts limits on the freedom of speech and day-to-day work of NGOs.

The new tax legislation entered into force on 25 August, after being adopted by the Parliament and signed by the president of Hungary.

A vague law

According to the law, the taxable entity is the organization providing financial support for “an act which supports immigration.” In the event that the organization providing the support does not pay the special tax, then the one receiving the support is to pay it. The bill stipulates the amount of the special tax as 25% of the financial or in-kind support dedicated to migration. The income resulting from this special tax may only be spent on border protection.

The law is vague regarding the definition of what constitutes an act of supporting immigration. According to the text, immigration is any relocation of individuals (meant to be final) from their country of origin into another country – not including citizens of the European Union and those from member countries of the European Economic Partnership Agreement.

In order for an act to be one that “supports immigration,” said act must fulfill certain requirements. First, the act must help immigration directly or indirectly. Second, the program, event or activity must fit into one of the three following categories: media campaigns (including holding and participating in media seminars), network development and operation, and/or advertisements which shed a positive light on immigration.

Enforcement of the tax law has been delegated to the National Tax Authority. The law is silent about what aspects the tax authority employees will have to consider in order to determine whether an act fulfills the requirements above. For example: does a press release stating that those who beat up citizens of a third country should face legal consequences qualify as support of immigration?

A tax on different opinions

Portraying immigration in a good light is a legitimate opinion and protected free speech – even if this is not in line with the government’s stance. Naturally, the government has the right to disagree with this – it may even argue against it – but it should not limit the expression of opinions which are contrary to its own.

In addition to the protection of free speech, there are other reasons why encouraging a wide range of opinions and open discussion by decision-makers would benefit the overall community. A variety of arguments regarding the positive aspects of immigration may be made, including arguments in which immigration can be shown to benefit the economy. It is in the best interest of the community to allow differing opinions to surface, to listen to them, and to incorporate the conversation and the arguments into the decision-making process – simply because decisions born this way will be more grounded and informed, taking into consideration all that has been argued.

While this new tax law does not forbid the emergence of certain views in everyday conversation, it definitely limits it by introducing a financial liability for those who argue in favor of immigration. Introducing such a tax makes it possible for these opinions to be silenced. Thus, this tax law is limiting an opinion – an opinion that, in itself, does not injure anybody’s rights – purely based on content. Put simply, this law is the taxation of opinions which do not agree with the government’s official view.

When evaluating this law, it should be noted that the introduction of the immigration special tax is connected to two processes. The government is once again attempting to silence certain opinions by taking steps to limit the activities of NGOs. In 2013, the governing parties and their politicians started a campaign aimed to discredit NGOs, and which entered a new phase during the refugee crisis: those whose opinion about immigration differed from that of the government were deemed traitors, and a threat to national security.

In the government’s communication, UN representatives and opposition politicians, as well as those working for NGOs (since their opinion differs from that of the government), have been presented as being on the payroll of George Soros and receiving directives directly from him.

In addition to the discrediting campaign, in 2017, the government started to adopt legislation aiming to silence NGOs: in 2017 they introduced the so-called anti-NGO law or the law of Transparency of Organizations Supported from Abroad. Although this bill is currently about limiting opinions regarding immigration, it could easily be extended to other activities that attempt to hold the government into account, therefore bother the government. It could, for example, be used to silence those who call for eliminating segregated schools, for providing humane living conditions for all, or who call out government officials for being corrupt.