There are a number of common misconceptions about young people, which should be reviewed from time to time. Among these, stereotypical theories on the migration of Hungarian youth are a prominent issue. In order to interpret the migration processes affecting young people, it is necessary to examine the migration trends affecting society as a whole.

The polarization of social attitudes related to the subject is enhanced by several factors: on the one hand, methodological challenges are encountered in migration research. There is no conceptual consensus among population experts, which makes it difficult to measure international migration. Two defining variables of the various definitions are the spatial distance and the duration of time. The majority of definitions of international migration include these two features but differ significantly in terms of their specific use. The United Nations (UN) (1998) recommends defining an international migrant as any person “who has changed his usual place of residence from one migration-defining area to another (or who moved some specified minimum distance) at least once during the migration interval.” Furthermore, the UN recommends that “a person who moves to a country other than that of his or her usual residence for a period of at least a year (12 months.”)
On the other hand, as a consequence of significant systemic processes of the last decades – such as globalization and the emergence of the creative age – international experience enhances individual success on the labor market, thanks to the benefits of learning other languages, encountering and understanding different cultures, and the acquisition of experience. Moreover, the enlargement of the European Union and the free movement of labor have facilitated cross-border mobility, and as a result of these global trends, it is not uncommon for a person to spend some life stages in a different country.

Classification of mobility forms 

Although we cannot speak of a common understanding of migration in both domestic and international scientific discourses, several attempts have been made to classify mobility forms. Several types of migration can be differentiated, despite the fact that the types of migration do not fall into sharply separated categories in practice. The main aspects of classification are generally represented by territorial considerations (state border), motivation, legality, and duration of time. Based on this, we can talk about internal or international migration, immigration or emigration, voluntary or forced migration, commuting, temporary or permanent migration, political, economic, social, and demographic movements, and legal or undocumented immigration. In the following, we examine the legal emigration of Hungarians.

Emigrating and returning Hungarian citizens 

Several challenges make it difficult to measure the emigration of Hungarian citizens. Nevertheless, it is clear from the emigration trends that the downward tendency observed in recent years continued, and following the negative peak of emigrants in 2015, year by year fewer and fewer people leave Hungary. According to the administrative data sources (KSH, Stadat tables), the number of Hungarian citizens who spent at least one year abroad was 7,000 in 2010, over 12,000 in 2011, almost 13,000 in 2012, more than 21,000 in 2013, and their number increased to more than 31,000 in 2014. The highest value of international migration of Hungarian citizens between 2010 and 2020 was registered in 2015, when the number of people going abroad approached 33,000. Although international migration had been rising since the beginning of the decade, the direction of the migration trend changed in 2016, with only around 29,000 people deciding to move abroad that year. Their number was in continuous decline until 2020. According to the administrative data sources for that year, a total of 19,300 Hungarian citizens emigrated, which was over 2,000 fewer than a year earlier.
The number of emigrating and returning Hungarian citizens shows a fluctuating picture; yet, the return of emigrants has become more typical since 2010. While 1,500 Hungarian-born people, who had emigrated earlier, returned in 2010, their number began to grow exponentially from 2011: in 2011 nearly 2,500, in 2013 more than 9,000, in 2015 nearly 15,000, and from 2018 more than 23,000 Hungarian citizens decided to return. 
In consequence, after 2016 the number of foreign citizens legally residing in Hungary and returning Hungarians has been higher compared to emigrating Hungarian citizens. It can also be interpreted as a positive trend that more Hungarian citizens born in Hungary, who emigrated earlier, have returned in the last two years than who have decided to move. (1200 more Hungarian citizens returned in 2019 and almost 4000 more in 2020 than the number of emigrants.)
There is a significant decrease in emigration since 2016 according to mirror statistics as well, although the figures in the results of domestic administrative data sources are significantly lower than those of mirror statistics. Above, I reviewed the migration processes, i.e. the development and trends of migration, on the basis of the so-called migration flow data. The size of the emigrated population is shown by the so-called migration stock data. Analysis is hindered by data problems. In addition, it is difficult to find reliable data on emigration, as neither administrative nor survey-type data can accurately measure international migration. First of all, migrants have little motivation to notify the authorities of their departure. Secondly, in the home country, non-administrative data sources (e.g. household surveys) do not reach persons who have emigrated with the whole household. In order to improve the estimation of emigration, the domestic administrative or statistical registers, other administrative data should compare with the so called “mirror statistic” (i.e. different data sources in the destination countries, for instance statistical offices, social security registration and other immigration statistic of the destination countries.)
However, it is important to note that mirror statistics are unable to produce a big picture of migration as they do not reveal the reasons behind the decision to migrate. Similarly, both the demographic background of emigrants and the purpose and duration of emigration remain hidden.

Emigration potential among Hungarian youth

Based on the results of the youth research carried out on a large, nationwide representative sample in 2020, we find that while the proportion of young people with short-term migration plans has not changed compared to four years earlier, the proportion of young people who plan to work for a few years in a foreign country has decreased by 6 percent (2016: 27 percent; 2020: 21 percent), and the proportion of young people planning to settle abroad has declined by 4 percent (2016: 15 percent; 2020: 11 percent.)
Although it is difficult to measure migration accurately due to the measurement problems detailed above (and the data on migration flows can be interpreted more as a snapshot of a dynamically changing process), the trends still seem clear. In other words, both the development of migration potential and actual emigration have been on a declining trend.