Trends in labour migration between regions

Following the political and economic upheaval in 1989, Hungary’s labour market has undergone major changes resulting in massive unemployment. Since then, while many new jobs have been created in some areas of the country, the situation has worsened in other regions. A study published in 2006 looks at factors restricting worker mobility and outlines characteristics of internal migration. It suggests that large-scale migration could aggravate the economic situation in poorer regions.


Based on statistical data on migration from the Hungarian Central Statistical Office (Központi Statisztikai Hivatal, KSH), the study entitled ‘Factors preventing geographical mobility of the workforce (in Hungarian)’ was published in 2006. The study looks at long-distance migration involving a change of residence, as opposed to temporary migration, which can be for the purposes of medical treatment, study or family reasons, therefore not necessarily concerning employment. The main difficulty in analysing the data lies in estimating the number of people who do not register their change of residence and, therefore, who are not represented in the data collection.

Trends in migration

Scale of migration

Based on the registry of the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior (Önkormányzatiés Területfejlesztési Minisztérium, ÖTM), which records a person’s change of residence, the number of migrants moving within Hungary has totalled around 400,000 people annually, which includes both permanent and temporary migrants such as daily or weekly commuters. The proportion of internal migrants as a percentage of the entire population reached 1.4% in 2003. Permanent migration, which involves a change of residence and the take-up of a new job, usually accounts for around half of all migration in Hungary. For instance, in 2002, some 232,000 permanent migrants were registered, increasing to 242,000 migrants in 2003, while the number of migrants dropped to 219,000 and 217,000 people, respectively, by 2004 and 2005.

Choice of destination

Migration is most marked within the counties of central Hungary, accounting for more than two thirds of all inter-regional migration in the country. Data from 2003 show that about 20,000 people migrated away from northeastern Hungary, more than half of whom migrated to the more developed central region of the country. Supposedly, the key motivation for migration relates to labour force considerations.

The study reveals that a large proportion of migration takes place between neighbouring settlements within the same county: in most counties, this figure makes up either two thirds or three quarters of migration in the regions. With regard to the size of settlements, people typically move away from small villages and large cities with a population of more than 100,000 inhabitants, which includes the capital city Budapest. In the former case, the reason behind migration is mainly the lack of job opportunities, while in the latter case it is due to the search for a better living environment due to the growth in development and construction around large cities.

Disincentives to mobility

Key factors which discourage migration are marital status, housing costs and schooling prospects for family members. Unemployed people with financial difficulties choose to move to another region only as a last resort. The social implications of moving to a new area are also significant: moving to another place often results in losing one’s social network which is an important source of security, as is the state welfare system. Due to differences in real estate and housing prices, a person who moves away from a poorer region is quite often forced to choose an area where the quality of life is worse. Only a small proportion of people can afford the costs of mobility, which mostly includes highly-educated young people aged between 21 and 30 years.


People who consider labour migration as a solution to a problematic employment situation may have to face increased costs when moving, such as higher housing costs. This group of people can include those living in regions with large-scale unemployment, young skilled workers, career-starters or temporarily unemployed people.

However, promoting and encouraging the migration of this segment of the population can further deteriorate the economy of poorer regions, as a result of the withdrawal of human capital, which causes a so-called ‘brain drain’. It is, therefore, also important to create job opportunities in these regions as well as to improve the infrastructure.

The study concludes that, in an effort to combat severe unemployment, commuting could constitute an alternative to permanent migration for workers; the latter would inflict fewer social expenses, such as having to leave the existing social network, even though it would entail a longer working day, higher travel expenses, as well as a change in family schedule. Encouraging daily commuting to and from a job can prove advantageous for employees for whom finding employment within a short time is highly important. People who commute on a weekly basis do so due to the underdevelopment of the transportation system; this choice also depends on whether the benefits or drawbacks are higher in comparison with commuting on a daily basis.


Kulcsár, G., ‘A munkaerő területi mobilitását akadályozó tényezők’, in Esély, No. 3, 2006.

Orsolya Polyacskó and Katalin Balogh, Institute for Political Science, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

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