Frequently Asked Questions About DNA Testing
When can DNA testing be relevant to immigration benefit applications?
A noncitizen’s ability to obtain an immigration benefit often hinges on proving a family relationship. For example, a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) filing an I-130 petition must establish that the beneficiary has a qualifying family relationship. The primary form of evidence for establishing a biological relationship between a parent and child or between two siblings is a birth certificate. When a birth certificate is not acceptable or available, secondary evidence (such as medical or school records or religious documents) or affidavits of first-hand witnesses may suffice to prove the requisite relationship. However, there are instances when Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) testing can be used to verify a family relationship in the context of an immigration benefit or citizenship application.
The Department of State (DOS) or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can consider DNA test results in a number of different contexts, including: family petitions (Form I-130); immigrant visa applications (Form DS-260); asylee and refugee relative petitions (Form I-730); applications for a Certificate of Citizenship (Form N-600); applications for a U.S. passport (Form DS-11) or Consular Report of Birth Abroad (Form FS-240); orphan petitions (Form I-600); humanitarian parole requests (Form I-131); international adoptions; and establishing qualification as a derivative beneficiary of a given application or petition.
How does USCIS handle DNA testing?
When insufficient credible evidence has been submitted to establish a biological relationship, USCIS may consider DNA testing as an optional form of secondary evidence. Since this is not specifically authorized by statute or regulation, USCIS can only suggest DNA testing but cannot require it. USCIS may also suggest DNA testing in cases where it suspects fraud. Procedurally, USCIS often recommends DNA testing by issuing a Request for Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID). Compliance with suggested DNA testing is entirely voluntary, and positive test results are not a guarantee that USCIS will approve a petition or application. USCIS should provide a list of accredited laboratories where testing can be conducted. All costs associated with testing must be paid by the petitioner or applicant. Finally, DNA test results must be specific to the relationship in question, meaning USCIS must indicate how the agency believes the two people to be tested are related (i.e. parent/child or siblings).
Can DNA test results be submitted preemptively without waiting for USCIS to suggest them?
Although individuals may want to submit DNA evidence proactively when filing a petition or application, the results must always be part of the USCIS chain of custody. Test results obtained privately by the petitioner or beneficiary will not be accepted by USCIS. However, once the petition has been submitted and the petitioner has a receipt number, it is possible to initiate DNA testing and request the results be sent directly to USCIS using the case receipt number, without waiting for an RFE to be issued. Similarly, DNA test results may be submitted affirmatively in connection with filing an appeal or motion to reopen, as long as the DNA test results are being sent directly from the lab to the Department of Homeland Security office adjudicating the petition or application.
How does DNA testing work with Department of State?
Like USCIS adjudicators, an officer at a U.S. consulate or embassy may recommend — but not require — voluntary DNA testing when sufficient evidence to determine the biological relationship is lacking. This is most commonly suggested in connection with applications for a U.S. passport, Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or immigrant visa. Consulates may not request DNA testing in order to disprove a relationship, only to verify one. Commonly tested relationships include paternity, maternity, full-siblingship, and half-siblingship. Note that consular posts also schedule and oversee DNA sample collection on behalf of USCIS cases where a party residing abroad has agreed to submit to genetic testing to prove the qualifying relationship.
Note that DOS requires DNA testing in the context of an anchor relative in the U.S. filing an Affidavit of Relationship for an overseas family member seeking access to the P-3 Refugee Family Reunification Program or the Central American Minors Refugee and Parole Program.
What is the process for DNA testing?
When USCIS or DOS suggests DNA testing to confirm a relationship and the applicant has decided to follow the suggestion, he or she must contact a laboratory that is accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB). A current list of AABB accredited laboratories in the United States can be found at: aabb.org/sa/facilities/Pages/RTestAccrFac.aspx. The petitioner or applicant is responsible for arranging for payment and scheduling an appointment with the accredited lab, which collects the DNA from inside the individual’s cheek through a buccal swab. If the individual needing testing is located abroad, the accredited lab will send the DNA test kit directly to the applicable consulate, which will then schedule an appointment for DNA collection by an authorized panel physician or designated medical technician. The consulate will return the test kit to the accredited lab in the United States for analysis of the DNA sample, and the lab will send the results directly to either USCIS or the consulate.
What are the current challenges in using DNA evidence?
In March 2020, DNA collection services at U.S. embassy posts were suspended as a part of the COVID-19 pandemic-related closures. As a result, I-130 beneficiaries and others have been unable to submit to DNA collection for over a year. Many consular posts have not yet resumed scheduling collection appointments. In the past, when DNA testing was delayed, USCIS would routinely accept a status letter from an accredited lab confirming that DNA testing had been initiated but not yet completed. The agency would typically hold the case for adjudication or extend an RFE deadline until DNA testing could be completed. However, CLINC has received recent reports of USCIS issuing NOIDs and denials in such cases.
CLINIC has also learned about RFEs being issued to I-130 petitioners that no longer mention DNA testing as a form of optional secondary evidence of the claimed biological relationship. In the past, when a birth certificate was deemed to be inadequate primary evidence of the relationship, USCIS would accept secondary evidence, including medical records, early school records, religious documents, census records, and optional voluntary DNA testing. But recent RFEs have omitted any reference to optional DNA testing, particularly where the petitioner submitted a late-registered birth certificate that USCIS found to be inadequate.
CLINIC is investigating these reports. If you have received a similar RFE, NOID or denial, please contact us through the Ask the Experts portal at: cliniclegal.org/find-legal-help/ask-experts
Where can I find law and policy guidance on DNA testing?
USCIS Adjudicator's Field Manual:
- Chapter 21.2 - Factors Common to the Adjudication of All Relative Visa Petitions
- Chapter 21.9 - Petition for a Sibling
USCIS Policy Memorandum:
- PM-602-0106.1 - DNA Evidence of Sibling Relationships, (April 17, 2018)