Genetic testing is a useful tool for verifying an alleged biological relationship when no other form of credible evidence is available in conjunction with an immigrant visa (IV) or passport application. Commonly tested relationships requiring DNA testing include paternity, maternity, full-siblingship, or half-siblingship. More distant relationships cannot be proven reliably using DNA testing. In visa adjudications, testing to establish relationships other than parent/child, such as siblings, may also be recommended but only in addition to a parent/child test. In citizenship adjudications, sibling to sibling relationships may be tested for independently.
If genetic testing would appear to be helpful, the Embassy will advise the applicant that genetic testing is an option. This testing is entirely voluntary. All costs of testing and related expenses must be borne by the petitioner and/or the beneficiary and paid to the laboratory in advance. It is important to remember that testing does not guarantee the subsequent issuance of a visa.
General Information on DNA Testing
Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) testing is the most accurate and widely available technology to test a biological relationship. The types of tests used by the DNA scientific community continue to evolve; currently, the Polymerase Chain Reaction-Short Tandem Repeat (PCR-STR) and the Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism (RFLP) methods are the two tests that we believe offer the best results. DNA testing reliability has advanced to the industry-accepted standard of 99.5 percent.
The Department of State only accepts test results reporting a 99.5 percent or greater degree of certainty with respect to paternity/maternity as sufficient to support a biological relationship between a parent and child in visa cases. However, a test that supports paternity/maternity to a degree less than 99.5 percent generally can be followed by retests to determine if the 99.5 percent accuracy can be achieved. If, after several attempts, it is not possible to reach the accepted level, and the State Department remains unconvinced of the bona fides of the relationship in question, the relevant petition will be returned to the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The Department of State’s preferred specimen collection technique for DNA testing is by buccal (cheek or mouth cavity) swab. When buccal swabs are taken, cells are collected from the inside cheek using a long cotton swab. Cheek swabs are preferred over blood samples because they are easier to collect, non-invasive, painless, and easier to ship. The accuracy of the DNA test conducted with a cheek swab is equivalent to a test conducted using a blood test, and, unlike blood, cheek swabs are not considered to be bio-hazardous.
Selection of and AABB Lab
Any DNA testing for visa or citizenship purposes must be processed by a lab that is accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB). Names of AABB accredited labs can be found on www.aabb.org Please note that the list of laboratories on the site is based on the physical location of the lab’s headquarters, and the operations of most labs are not restricted to that location. Therefore, the petitioner should be able to choose from the full list of AABB laboratories that conduct DNA testing.
The petitioner, then, must select an AABB-accredited laboratory, contact the lab directly, and make the necessary arrangements for conducting the genetic test – including payment for all tested parties.
Under no circumstances should petitioners use third-party vendors to select their lab, arrange appointments, or transport the specimens outside of the lab chain-of-custody controls. For example, a petitioner must independently choose his or her own AABB lab, make the appointment, and go to the collection site directly. The collection site must then send the specimen to the main AABB lab testing site directly, through the lab’s internal, controlled system.
Third-party vendors include, but may not be limited to, private companies or clearinghouses that serve as intermediaries to make appointments on behalf of petitioners or beneficiaries. The authority for collecting DNA specimens in the United States reside exclusively with the AABB labs and their directly affiliated collection sites.
Under no circumstances should petitioners, including those in the United States, directly receive test kits for themselves or the beneficiaries. The Embassy will not accept test kits delivered from anyone other than the AABB laboratory. The DNA samples for the petitioner must be collected at a designated AABB testing site, lab, or clinic (generally in the United States). The AABB laboratory selected by the petitioner will send a test kit, including a pre-paid, pre-addressed return envelope and explicit sampling instructions, directly to the consular section for testing of the beneficiary.
Standards for the Collection of the DNA
Though advanced, DNA results are only accurate if strict standards are followed for every sample collected. The AABB establishes standards for relationship testing, and the Department of State follows these standards for use in the collection of DNA samples to verify relationships for IV’s, passports, and other benefits based on biological relationships.
There are four essential elements that must be understood and maintained to protect the integrity of the DNA collection and relationship testing procedures:
- As DNA testing is voluntary, the individual being tested must consent to the testing;
- The identity of the individual being tested must be verified and confirmed by a consular section employee;
- The integrity of the sample must be maintained through a strict chain of custody; and
- The actual collection of the DNA sample must be witnessed by a consular section employee.
- Consequently, all DNA collections must take place at the Embassy and not at the panel physician’s office or any other lab facility.
DNA Testing Procedures
- Petitioner/putative parent selects AABB accredited laboratory.
- The selected AABB lab sends the beneficiary DNA testing kit(s) directly to the consular section at the embassy. Our address is, Embassy of the United States, ATTN: Consular Section, Dag Hammarskjold Alle 24, DK-2100 Copenhagen Ø.
- The consular section will contact the applicant and direct the applicant to contact a panel physician to make the arrangements for DNA testing. All payments must be made to the panel physician before a collection date will be set.
- On the DNA collection appointment date, the beneficiary will come to the consular section, bringing his/her passport and a U.S. passport-sized photograph. A lab technician from the panel physician’s office must come to the consular section to collect the DNA sample(s).
- The consular section employee will:
- Verify the identity of the DNA donor by examining the donor’s passport; and
- Ensure that the donor signs the back of his/her passport photo for attachment to the associated documents.
- Once the identity of the applicant has been confirmed, the panel physician’s lab technician will collect the DNA sample from the donor while the consular section employee witnesses.
- After collection, the consular section employee and the applicant will witness the lab technician placing the completed DNA sample into the protective sleeve or pouch provided by the lab. The consular employee will then again take custody of the lab specimen.
- The consular section employee will seal the sample in accordance with the kit instructions and then further seal the kit in a pre-paid shipping envelope addressed to the AABB laboratory.
Storing and Shipping of DNA Samples
Once the test is completed, the DNA samples will be shipped as soon as possible – usually the same day. The envelope will be shipped through a company similar to DHL or FedEx. All DNA samples will be shipped within 24-48 hours after collection is complete.
Communicating the Results of the DNA Test
In all phases of testing, communication of the results of the test will occur directly between the consular section of the Embassy and the AABB laboratories. The laboratories will send all test results directly to the Embassy in sealed envelopes—the Embassy will not accept results that are not sent directly from the AABB testing lab. Only a cleared consular employee will be allowed to open one of these sealed envelopes.
However, since the applicant or sponsor bears full financial responsibility for testing, he or she is, of course, able to receive a copy of the results directly from the laboratory in question. However, the Embassy will not give out copies of the test results directly to the petitioners, applicants or any other parties without valid reason and express consent from Department of State.