Genetic-lab testing for DNA-immigration applications has become a standard option for families who need to demonstrate biological relationships to prove immigration eligibility. Many countries now look to DNA testing as a means of documenting biological family relationships in the absence of reliable birth certificates or family records.
DNA immigration tests screen applicants for paternity and/or maternity via father-child, mother-child, child and full brother or sister, child and half-brother or -sister, and avuncular relationships (child and paternal aunt/uncle/grandparent) relationships. DNA testing is also useful for U.S. citizens seeking citizenship for their children born outside the United States.
Precision and Accuracy
The results of today’s DNA paternity and maternity testing (father/child or mother/child) are both incredibly precise and solidly reliable. The industry-accepted standard stands at 99.99% probability of relationship for genetic lab tests conducted via both buccal (cheek or mouth) swab or blood test. This precision has led to high standards from consular officers screening for immigration purposes.
“Consular officers may only accept test results reporting a 99.99 percent or greater degree of certainty with respect to paternity/maternity as sufficient to support a biological relationship between a parent and child in passport and CRBA cases,” states the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. “When testing more distant relatives, a lower degree of probability of relationship to a U.S. citizen parent may be achieved, but it must also meet the requisite evidentiary standard in order to establish the claimed relationship to a U.S. citizen parent.”
To ensure this degree of accuracy, DNA immigration testing must occur at DNA testing facilities accredited by the AABB (American Association of Blood Banks). Testing is considered voluntary, with all costs being borne by the applicant and paid to the testing lab in advance. Submitting to DNA testing does not guarantee the issuance of a passport or Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA).
Let’s dive deeper.
The Benefits of DNA Immigration Testing
The Immigration and Naturalization Service first began voluntary DNA immigration testing among refugees during the early 2000s to stem a rising tide of immigration fraud. According to a 2008 report from the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, the program at that time was able to confirm biological relationships in fewer than 20% of cases. So by and large, fraud was proven.
Despite its accuracy, DNA immigration testing is not without some controversy. Some immigration lawyers and experts have wondered if U.S. authorities might not be routinely demanding DNA testing even in cases when other documentation appears sufficient.
Routine use of DNA testing adds burdens and costs for immigration applicant families. Thus, the Bureau of Consular Affairs affirms that due to its expense, complexity and logistical challenges, genetic testing generally should be used “only in the absence of sufficient other evidence (documentation, photos, etc.) establishing the relationship.”
Genetic Lab Testing
Specimens for DNA immigration testing are normally collected via buccal swabs using a long nylon swab. Compared to blood sample testing, buccal swabs are non-invasive and easier to collect and ship. Guidelines from the U.S. Department of State and AABB require that an AABB testing laboratory coordinate the entire DNA testing process; no third-party labs or applicant involvement are permitted.
AABB requires specific steps for the handling of DNA immigration test samples:

  1. The testing lab schedules the appointment for petitioners located in the United States.
  2. The testing lab ships a DNA collection kit to the U.S. embassy or USCIS office in the applicant’s home country.
  3. The U.S. embassy or USCIS office collects the beneficiary’s DNA sample and ships the samples back to the testing lab.
  4. Once genetic lab testing is complete, the testing lab ships a certified report to the requesting immigration office and U.S.-based petitioner.

Verification Methods
AABB regulations require a strict system of checks and balances on the entire DNA testing process to ensure quality and prevent fraud.
To ensure the accuracy of DNA immigration tests, the DNA testing laboratory used must be on the U.S. Department of State’s list of AABB-accredited laboratories.
Chain of custody procedures ensure that samples are not tampered with at any point in the process.
A neutral third party collects the DNA samples. The tested parties are positively identified when their samples are collected. This includes verifying IDs and photographing and thumb printing the individuals.The samples are tamper-sealed and securely packaged at the collection site.
The samples are carefully inspected for tampering  when they arrive at the testing lab.
The DNA testing laboratory must send a sample collection kit and explicit collection instructions to the U.S. embassy or embassy-approved panel physician in the foreign country.
The DNA testing laboratory must coordinate directly with the U.S. embassy or USCIS center to provide legally defensible test results and a clear explanation of the results. DDC has provided DNA immigration testing for more than a decade, working with residents of more than 168 countries and becoming familiar with the processes and needs of U.S. embassies and consulates around the world.
The DNA parentage test results should produce a probability of relationship of 99.99% or more. For paternity and maternity tests, DDC promises a probability of relationship of 99.99% — often 99.999% and higher.