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Fast track to Swiss passport and full coffers

The mountain village holds a special Swiss record swissinfo.ch

A small mountain village in southeast Switzerland is cashing in on demand for a Swiss passport by offering a fast track to citizenship.

This content was published on February 17, 2005 - 09:45

But the authorities are pushing for legal amendments to end the controversial policy.

The village of Castaneda, located high above the Calanca valley at 786m, is a record holder of a kind. The village in the Italian-speaking region has only 240 local residents, but granted 620 foreigners citizenship in 2004.

Castaneda’s naturalisation policy, which paves the way for a Swiss passport, is much frowned upon although it is strictly legal.

Applicants are charged up to SFr3,000 ($2,564) in fees and must have lived for at least six years in canton Graubünden.

But the commune is more generous than other local authorities when it comes to welcoming new citizens.

Wave of requests

Applicants do not have to be residents of Castaneda, nor do they have to attend a face-to-face interview: the complicated three-stage citizenship procedure is mainly handled by post.

The liberal policy of Castaneda has attracted people from nearby Italy, as well as Germany, the Czech Republic, the former Yugoslavia and Turkey.

More than 500 foreigners became citizens of the small village between 1981 and 2000. And last year, Castaneda’s record 620 new citizens accounted for two thirds of all citizenship applications in the canton.

The liberal policy has brought in extra revenue for the village authorities over the years. In 2003 and 2004 alone, SFr1.5 million was raised in application fees, according to officials.

But many people in Castaneda are reluctant to talk on the subject.

And the authorities are outraged about inaccurate media reports, suggesting that any foreigner can receive a Swiss passport through the post.

Tongue-tied

"We are no longer talking to journalists," said Filippo Remondini, the president of the villagers’ association, adding that the media interest was very stressful.

At first even the village mayor, Atillio Savioni, was reluctant to talk. He said he had repeatedly urged Remondini to show more restraint with citizenship requests, but to no avail.

Savioni acknowledges that the village does benefit financially from the fees paid by applicants, but plays down the impact.

"We do not depend on this type of income," he told swissinfo. The mayor dismissed allegations that the village was able to reduce local tax levels because of the revenue.

End in sight

Other residents of Castaneda have spoken out bluntly, condemning the local citizenship policy as a cheap money-spinner and expressing concern that it attracts "non-whites" to the village.

The cantonal authorities are not best pleased with Castaneda’s local politicians either.

"It is a questionable way of filling the village coffers," said Mathias Fässler of the Graubünden justice and police department.

The cantonal government has moved to reform the citizenship rules in a bid to put an end to Castaneda’s policy. Under the draft law applicants for citizenship would have to be residents in the village in which they submitted their request.

The new law is due to come into force next January.

swissinfo

In brief

The number of foreigners granted citizenship in Castaneda shot up from 515 (1981-2000) to 591 (2003) and 620 (2004) thanks to the liberal citizenship policy.

As a result, Castaneda recorded extra revenue of SFr1.5 million ($1.3million) for the past two years.

Moves are underway to tighten the cantonal law by January 2006.

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Key facts

The normal naturalisation procedure is based on approval by the federal, cantonal and local authorities, which set their own rules and fees.
Citizenship fees will be standardised as of January 2006.
Applicants must have lived in the country for a certain number of years and prove they are integrated into Swiss society.

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