Creation of DNA profiles for family reunification purposes

The introduction of DNA tests for family reunification purposes in the French Immigration Act sparked heated debate. In Switzerland, the practice already exists: in exceptional cases, the granting of an authorisation may be subject to a DNA analysis provided that the person concerned agrees to this in writing. In our view, such a practice should only be applied in a very restrictive manner.

On 1 April 2007, the Swiss Federal Law on the Genetic Testing of Humans (GUMG) came into effect. Within the context of administrative procedures, the new law makes the granting of an authorisation or the provision of services subject to the establishment of a DNA profile. This is done in cases where they may be reasonable doubts about the filiation or the identity of a person, or if such doubts cannot be dispelled in any other way. However, such DNA profiles may only be established with the written consent of the individual concerned.

Thus, the procedure many only be applied in exceptional cases where clarification cannot be obtained by any other means. Under all circumstances, the establishment of DNA profiles must respect the principle of proportionality. This criterion is met, for example, if acts of civil status are provided from countries with civil status registers that are either incomplete or unreliable.

If an application for family reunification is made, the genetic test may be limited to verifying the relationship between the mother and child in order to avoid a personal tragedy. Although quite a large number of children are born in wedlock, making the woman’s husband the legal father, the genetic father is often another man.

The discussions that took place in France also triggered a debate in Switzerland. Carlo Sommaruga, a national councillor (member of the lower house of the Swiss parliament), tabled a motion (binding resolution) on 5 October 2007 requiring the Federal Council to present a report on the handling of DNA tests within the context of family reunification procedures. We supported that motion as we are convinced that a report would be extremely useful in an area that is as complex and sensitive as this. Then, on 20 December 2007, national councillor Alfred Heer presented a parliamentary initiative calling for DNA tests to be introduced for all cases of family reunification from problem countries.

From a data protection perspective, DNA testing must be proportional and should only be ordered as a last resort. The voluntary nature of the test is however relative, because if an applicant refuses to submit to it, a visa may be denied. Furthermore, he or she has to pay for the costs of the test.

Unlike in Switzerland, genetic tests in France are ordered by a judge and paid for by the state. The legal basis for the ordering of a DNA test in Switzerland is provided by the Federal Law on the Genetic Testing of Humans.

Last modification 30.06.2008

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