Use of DNA to Establish a Sibling Relationship

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a policy memo on October 17, 2014, regarding restrictions on the use of DNA test results in cases involving claimed sibling relationships. Per the memo, the USCIS will not accept sibling-to-sibling DNA test results as evidence establishing that relationship.

Proof of Relationship Required in Family-Based Cases

A U.S. citizen can sponsor a foreign national sibling for permanent residency (commonly, “green card”) in the family-based, fourth preference (FB4) category. In order to establish the sibling relationship, it is necessary to present proof that the individuals have at least one parent in common. In many cases, this is fairly simple, and can be shown by birth documents alone. It is not uncommon, however, for FB4 cases to run into problems because the primary documentation of birth and parentage is either nonexistent or unreliable.

In cases where the primary evidence is unavailable or insufficient, immigration regulations allow for the use of secondary evidence to establish the parent-child relationship – or, for FB4 filings, the in-common parent-child relationship. Secondary evidence may include documents such as school records, religious documents, and the like. The USCIS also has been granted legal authority to require a blood group antigen test, if the relationship is in doubt. However, as explained in the October 17th policy memorandum, this test is no longer performed routinely, due to advances in technology, such as DNA testing.

DNA Option to Establish Parent-Child Relationship

Many people choose to submit DNA test results as an alternative to the blood group antigen test, in order to establish the parent-child relationship (which, in turn, can be used to establish the sibling relationship). The USCIS does not have the authority to require DNA testing, but can suggest that such a test be submitted. In fact, per a policy memorandum issued by the USCIS in 2008, the DNA tests are accepted as proof of a parent-child relationship. The guidelines require a minimal determination to a 99.5 percent statistical probability.

DNA Problematic for Siblings

While DNA test results are considered acceptable to establish a parent-child relationship, the USCIS has determined that there are insufficient scientific standards to use DNA test results between two siblings to establish a sibling-to-sibling relationship. This determination was reached after consulting with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Component, the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) and AABB (formerly the American Association of Blood Banks.) As stated in the October 17th memo, adjudicating officers “…may not afford any evidentiary weight to sibling-to-sibling DNA test results.”

DNA Still Accepted for Siblings Through Parent Testing

While DNA test results that merely compare the DNA of two claimed siblings is not accepted by the USCIS, the sibling-to-sibling relationship can still be established through parent-child DNA tests. That is, since siblings must share a common parent, if that parent is available, testing could be conducted to prove that the petitioner and the beneficiary both have a parent in common, and therefore are siblings.


This policy change is unfortunate, as many countries do not have paper trails of relationships that are easily available and definitive. As DNA testing is further studied and refined, the reliability of sibling-to-sibling testing tests may rise to a level that satisfies the USCIS to establish the relationship. Meanwhile, however, it is important to be aware of this USCIS policy, and, if applicable, to find and retain the documents that may help verify familial relationships.


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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.