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When is DNA testing useful for immigration?

Scientific advances in DNA analysis make it easier than ever to establish a relationship between family members in support of immigration/visa and passport applications.

However, the use of DNA evidence in immigration cases has not been without controversy.  

In 2018, Home Secretary Sajid Javid was forced to apologise when it was revealed that a significant number of immigrants had been advised that DNA testing was mandatory for certain family visa applications, without any legal basis for such a requirement.

In fact, the submission of DNA evidence in support of an immigration, visa or passport application is entirely voluntary, with Home Office DNA policy guidance later being updated to acknowledge that the department did not have the power to make such a request.

In this article, we look at what you need to know about legally instructed DNA testing for immigration, visa, and passport applications, including when a client might wish to submit DNA evidence, and which relationship tests are best for immigration matters. 

Table of contents
  • When is an immigration DNA test/Home Office DNA test required?
  • How is a DNA test useful for immigration applications?
  • What are the legal requirements for laboratories performing immigration DNA testing?
  • Who might need a DNA test for immigration/passport applications?
  • Is a DNA test needed for visa applications?
  • Is a DNA test needed for passport applications?
  • Which DNA tests are best for immigration/passport applications?
  • How are DNA samples collected for immigration DNA testing?
  • How does sample collection work when a family member lives abroad?
  • How much does a DNA test for immigration cost?
  • How is an immigration DNA test performed at the laboratory?
  • What will the Home Office look for when reviewing the results of an immigration DNA test?
  • Where can I buy a DNA test for immigration/passport applications?

When is an immigration DNA test/Home Office DNA test required?

An immigration DNA test is often required when a UK citizen is sponsoring the immigration of a relative who needs to prove to the Home Office, UK Visas and Immigration, Border Force, Immigration Enforcement, HM Passport Office, embassy, or consulate that the person seeking UK citizenship/a UK passport is a blood relative.

For example, if a child is born abroad to a parent or parents who are UK citizens, a Home Office approved DNA test may be required to confirm paternity or maternity, which will allow the child to be granted UK citizenship.

How is a DNA test useful for immigration applications?

While documents such as birth or marriage certificates will usually be enough to prove a relationship for immigration/visa or passport applications, DNA tests can prove invaluable, provided the applicant has independently decided to submit DNA evidence to support a relationship (as they cannot be asked to do so by officials).

In recent years, AlphaBiolabs has seen an increase in demand for complex relationship testing, as UK citizens make a case for bringing members of their extended family to the UK.

Options for complex relationship DNA tests include (but are not limited to) avuncular (aunt and uncle) tests, grandparent DNA tests, and sibling DNA tests.

In the past such tests could only draw one of two conclusions – whether the subjects were related or unrelated.

However, technological advances mean we are now able to paint a more complete picture of a person’s family tree.

For example, if a person is seeking UK citizenship for multiple children, DNA testing would be able to determine which of those children are sons or daughters, or if any the children are in fact more likely to be nieces or nephews of the applicant.

Whatever the circumstances, it is important to note that DNA tests for this purpose must meet a certain standard to be provided as evidence.

This includes the requirement for the test to be performed by a Home Office approved ISO 17025-accredited testing laboratory, and for samples to be collected under strict chain of custody conditions.

Who might need a DNA test for immigration/passport applications?

A DNA test for a Home Office visa application or a UK passport application might be needed if the client/applicant is applying to join their family members who are already living in the UK as permanent residents, or if they are applying for a UK passport on the basis of a familial relationship.

A person submitting an immigration or passport application will usually be required to submit supporting documents such as birth or marriage certificates.

These documents are often enough to prove a relationship for an immigration application or a passport application.

However, where more evidence is required, or there are no official documents available (e.g. birth certificates), the applicant might choose to take a DNA test to prove a biological relationship to family members residing in the UK.

It’s important to note that the applicant must independently decide to submit DNA evidence, as they cannot be asked to do so by Home Office officials.

Is a DNA test needed for visa applications?

No, DNA testing is not needed to support a visa application.

However, if the applicant is invited to submit further evidence by the Home Office in support of their application, they will be given a range of options to choose from, including DNA testing.

It is up to the client/applicant whether they choose to take a DNA test (e.g. paternity, maternity, sibling, aunt/uncle, grandparent) to support their application.

In the absence of DNA evidence, the Home Office must review the application on the basis of the evidence already supplied (e.g. birth certificates, marriage certificates etc.).

Is a DNA test needed for passport applications?

No, DNA testing is not needed for passport applications.

For overseas client’s applying for a UK passport, HM Passport Office must consider nationality, identity, entitlement and safeguarding when checking the client’s passport application.

While HM Passport Office cannot insist on DNA evidence being provided to support a passport application, if further evidence is requested, the applicant/client will be given a range of options for supporting evidence, including DNA testing.  

For example, if a child wanted to apply for a UK passport on the basis that their father was a UK resident, they may be asked to submit birth records/birth certificates to prove a parental relationship.

However, they might also choose to take a legal paternity DNA test to prove that the person residing in the UK is their biological father.

Which DNA tests are best for immigration/passport applications?

Examples of DNA testing being used for visa/passport applications include:

  • If a child is born abroad to UK citizens and parents are seeking citizenship for the child. In this instance, the individual may choose to have a legal paternity or maternity test to confirm parentage.
  • If a relative plans to move to the UK and they want to submit DNA evidence to confirm a familial relationship (where a UK citizen is sponsoring them for citizenship or a visa), they may decide to have a complex relationship DNA test

These types of tests can be used to verify a biological relationship between siblings, grandparents and their grandchildren, nieces and nephews and their uncle(s) or aunt(s) or even tell us the likelihood of two or more people being cousins.

How are DNA samples collected for immigration DNA testing?

When performing DNA testing for immigration/passport applications, a cheek (buccal) swab is rubbed on the inside of each donor’s cheek to collect cheek cell DNA for analysis.

There are certain collection standards that must be met for the DNA evidence to be admissible to the Home Office, UK Visas and Immigration and HM Passport Office.

This includes ensuring the DNA samples are collected under strict chain of custody conditions. When samples are collected under chain of custody, a trained sample collector will obtain the DNA samples from each donor, and photographic identification must also be obtained.

The donors must also provide consent (usually a signature) for their samples to be used for DNA testing. For children under the age of 16, consent must be provided by a parent or guardian with parental responsibility for the child.

Anyone aged 16 or over must provide their own written consent for the DNA test to be performed.

Once the DNA samples have been collected, the sample collection envelope is also sealed with tamper tape, to ensure the samples haven’t been tampered with, before they are returned to the testing laboratory.

As soon as the DNA samples arrive at the laboratory, the samples are then analysed and compared to determine whether the individuals being tested share enough matching DNA markers to verify a biological relationship.

If they share enough DNA markers, they are likely to be biologically related (e.g. parent and child, aunt/uncle and niece/nephew, full or half-siblings, cousins etc.).

An AlphaBiolabs DNA test can analyse and compare up to 42 DNA markers (loci) – double the industry standard for DNA testing – for a conclusive result.

When testing a person in a foreign country a Home Office approved laboratory, like AlphaBiolabs, will be well-versed in collecting DNA samples from individuals living abroad.

A sample collection kit is sent to the required foreign location, and an appointment can be arranged via a local GP, medical practice, hospital, or another approved clinic in the applicant’s country.

The DNA samples are then collected (either in the UK or abroad) under chain of custody, with the donors required to provide a form of ID, including photographic identification.

How does sample collection work when a family member lives abroad?

Home Office approved laboratories, like AlphaBiolabs, are well-versed in collecting DNA samples from individuals living abroad.

We operate alongside a large international network of sample collectors, who work closely with immigration centres, consulates, and embassies worldwide to ensure a fast and efficient service, collecting samples from over 90 different countries worldwide.

When collecting a DNA sample from a foreign location, a sample collection kit will be sent to the required foreign location, and an appointment can be arranged via a local GP, medical practice, hospital, or another approved clinic in the applicant’s country.

The DNA samples are then collected (both in the UK and abroad) under chain of custody, with the donor(s) required to provide a form of ID, including photographic identification.

Our DNA tests for immigration are accepted by the Home Office, UK Visas and Immigration, HM Passport Office, and UK courts.

How much does a DNA test for immigration cost?

The cost of a DNA test for immigration depends on several factors including where the samples need to be collected from (e.g. foreign location) and which DNA relationship test is required (e.g. paternity, maternity, sibling, aunt/uncle or grandparent).

Depending on the circumstances, the applicant may be entitled to legal aid towards the cost of the DNA test.

The Legal Aid Agency has produced a wealth of information to assist individuals who want to check whether they are eligible for legal aid funding.

We recommend that anyone seeking an immigration DNA test use the legal aid checker as a starting point before embarking on the complex process of applying for legal aid for an immigration or passport application.

How is an immigration DNA test performed at the laboratory?

Once the DNA samples arrive at our laboratory, our geneticists extract the DNA from the cheek cell samples using the very latest methods and techniques in DNA analysis.

Our DNA laboratory analyses up to 42 DNA markers (loci) – double the industry standard for DNA testing – to determine whether two or more individuals are biologically related.

The DNA test looks at Short Tandem Repeats (STR markers), specific locations on a chromosome made up of sequences of repeated DNA.

Every person has two copies of each STR marker, known as alleles: one inherited from the father and one from the mother.

The two alleles observed at each STR marker are then compared between the tested individuals. If enough matching markers are found, this provides evidence of a biological relationship.

Statistical calculations are then performed to determine the probability of the tested individuals sharing a relationship.

What will the Home Office look for when reviewing the results of an immigration DNA test?

Depending on the reasons for the DNA test, the results will be reviewed by an immigration, nationality and asylum caseworker, immigration and border force officer or passport examiner.

When reviewing the results, the caseworker or passport examiner is required to carefully review the DNA testing laboratory’s explanation of the headline results when considering the application.

If the results do not verify a biological relationship between the applicant and the other sample donor (family member), the case will be referred to a senior official for further consideration.

Where can I buy a DNA test for immigration/passport applications?

As a UKAS-accredited testing laboratory, AlphaBiolabs has worked with British Embassies and some of the largest specialist immigration solicitors in the UK for 18 years.

Our DNA immigration tests are recognised and admissible to UK courts, the Ministry of Justice, the UK Border Agency, the UK Visas and Immigration Service, Border Force, Immigration Enforcement and HM Passport Office.

We operate alongside a large international network of sample collectors, who work closely with immigration centres, consulates, and embassies worldwide to ensure a fast and efficient service, collecting samples from over 90 different countries worldwide.

We also offer free sample collection for legal clients at our walk-in centres across the UK. 

For expert advice on which DNA test is best for your client, call the AlphaBiolabs Legal team on 0330 600 1300 or email testing@alphabiolabs.com and a member of the team will be in touch.

Last reviewed: 18/07/2022

Casey Randall AlphaBiolabs

Casey Randall

Head of DNA and Covid Testing at AlphaBiolabs

Casey joined the AlphaBiolabs team in 2012 and heads up both the DNA and Covid-19 testing teams.

An expert in DNA analysis and a member of the International Society for Forensic Genetics (ISFG), Casey holds an MSc with Distinction in DNA Profiling and a First-Class BSc with Honours in Forensic Science.

Casey is responsible for maintaining the highest quality testing standards, as well as looking for ways to further enhance the service that AlphaBiolabs provides and exploring new and innovative techniques in DNA analysis.

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