The Biology of Citizenship: Immigration, DNA Testing, and the State

immigrationThe past twenty years have wit­nessed a “return of the cit­i­zen,”1 result­ing in man­i­fold pro­pos­als to rede­fine and expand the notion of cit­i­zen­ship and its links to the nation-states, giv­ing rise to terms like post-national, dena­tion­al­ized, and transna­tional cit­i­zen­ship.2 In the last decade, a new con­cept has emerged that has received par­tic­u­lar atten­tion in the cit­i­zen­ship dis­course: “bio­log­i­cal”3 or “genetic cit­i­zen­ship.”4 This “key­word in the mak­ing”5 was first intro­duced by the anthro­pol­o­gist Adri­ana Petryna, in her study of Ukrainian cit­i­zens affected by the nuclear dis­as­ter of 1986.6 The book is based on exten­sive field­work, pre­sent­ing obser­va­tions and inter­views with gov­ern­ment offi­cials, sci­en­tists, clin­i­cians, activists from non­govern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions, and peo­ple who lived and worked in the con­t­a­m­i­nated zone around Cher­nobyl. Petryna shows how, after the col­lapse of the Soviet Union, peo­ple who had worked at the Cher­nobyl Nuclear Power Plant made demands upon the new Ukrainian state through their bio­log­i­cal sta­tus as suf­fer­ers of radi­a­tion sick­ness. In this con­text, the author intro­duces the con­cept of bio­log­i­cal cit­i­zen­ship. She uses the term to describe “a mas­sive demand for, but selec­tive access to, a form of social wel­fare based on med­ical, sci­en­tific, and legal cri­te­ria that both acknowl­edge bio­log­i­cal injury and com­pen­sate for it.”7

Until now, the grow­ing lit­er­a­ture on this topic has almost exclu­sively referred to the impor­tance of patients’ asso­ci­a­tions, dis­ease advo­cacy orga­ni­za­tions, and self-help groups that give rise to new forms of sub­jec­ti­va­tion and col­lec­tive action, thus chal­leng­ing exist­ing bor­der­li­nes between laypeo­ple and sci­en­tific experts, between active researchers and pas­sive ben­e­fi­cia­ries of tech­no­log­i­cal pro­gress. Fre­quently, authors using the notion of bio­log­i­cal or genetic cit­i­zen­ship argue that these groups are ques­tion­ing access to knowl­edge and claims to exper­tise, forg­ing new alliances with bio­med­ical researchers, and lob­by­ing to influ­ence polit­i­cal deci­sion-mak­ing and to receive fund­ing for med­ical research. So far, the focus of the debate has been on the exten­sion of rights, the emer­gence of new pos­si­bil­i­ties of civic par­tic­i­pa­tion and social engage­ment, and on the choice-enhanc­ing options of bio­med­ical tech­nolo­gies, espe­cially the new genet­ics.8

While this under­stand­ing of bio­log­i­cal cit­i­zen­ship cer­tainly high­lights impor­tant social and polit­i­cal impli­ca­tions of biotech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tions in a glob­al­ized world, it tends to down­play and ignore prac­tices of sur­veil­lance and exclu­sion, and the refusal of cit­i­zen­ship rights based on bio­log­i­cal knowl­edge.9 An inter­est­ing exam­ple in this respect is the use of DNA test­ing for fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion. By dis­cussing Ger­many as an exem­plary case, we show that the use of parental test­ing endorses a bio­log­i­cal con­cept of the fam­ily and may lead to the exclu­sion or sus­pen­sion of cit­i­zen­ship rights.10

Family Reunification and DNA Analysis

In gen­eral, fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion refers to the right of fam­ily mem­bers liv­ing abroad to join rel­a­tives who hold long-term res­i­dence per­mits for, or are cit­i­zens of, a given coun­try. The right to fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion has been an inte­gral part of many coun­tries’ immi­gra­tion poli­cies, and is derived from the pro­tec­tion of the fam­ily as laid down in the Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Human Rights. Fam­ily-related immi­gra­tion is cur­rently one of the major dri­vers of legal immi­gra­tion to West­ern coun­tries. How­ever, many coun­tries are enforc­ing more restric­tive fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion poli­cies, impos­ing stricter require­ments on those apply­ing to enter the coun­try. Even if appli­cants pos­sess the doc­u­ments required to prove their iden­ti­ties, the infor­ma­tion is often rejected by immi­gra­tion author­i­ties, as they ques­tion their authen­tic­ity.

In this con­text, many coun­tries resort to parental test­ing. Appli­cants are required to provide offi­cial doc­u­men­ta­tion to prove their iden­ti­ties, such as birth and mar­riage cer­tifi­cates and pass­ports. Pro­vid­ing such infor­ma­tion is often dif­fi­cult, espe­cially in coun­tries that do not use offi­cial doc­u­ments to estab­lish iden­tity, or where those doc­u­ments have been lost or destroyed due to polit­i­cally unsta­ble sit­u­a­tions. But even if appli­cants pos­sess the required doc­u­ments, immi­gra­tion author­i­ties some­times reject the infor­ma­tion as they ques­tion their authen­tic­ity.

In the 1990s, some host coun­tries began to use DNA analy­sis to resolve cases in which they con­sid­ered the infor­ma­tion pre­sented on fam­ily rela­tion­ships to be incom­plete or unsat­is­fac­tory. Today, at least 20 coun­tries around the world, includ­ing 16 Euro­pean coun­tries, have incor­po­rated parental test­ing into deci­sion-mak­ing on fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion in immi­gra­tion cases: Aus­tralia, Aus­tria, Bel­gium, Canada, Den­mark, Esto­nia, Fin­land, France, Ger­many, Hun­gary, Italy, Lithua­nia, Malta, the Nether­lands, New Zealand, Nor­way, Switzer­land, Swe­den, the UK, and the USA11

In Ger­many, the most impor­tant piece of fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion leg­is­la­tion is the Res­i­dence Act, which came into force in 2005 and incor­po­rates most of the reg­u­la­tions of Coun­cil Direc­tive 2003/86/EC. The Res­i­dence Act explic­itly states that the right to fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion is meant to pro­tect the fam­ily in accor­dance with the Basic Con­sti­tu­tional Law. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, every spouse, either a Ger­man or a for­eigner who is in pos­ses­sion of a tem­po­rary or unre­stricted res­i­dence per­mit, can be the spon­sor of an appli­ca­tion for fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion. The spon­sor and his or her part­ner need to be mar­ried. In prin­ci­ple, same-sex part­ners may apply for fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion as well, and they have the same rights as mar­ried cou­ples. How­ever, the same-sex part­ner­ship or mar­riage has to be offi­cially rec­og­nized as such in the coun­try of origin. For many appli­cants it is almost impos­si­ble to ful­fill this pre­req­ui­site, as same-sex part­ner­ships are not offi­cially rec­og­nized in many home coun­tries. Even worse, the fact that a per­son is gay, les­bian, bisex­ual, or trans­gen­der and was per­se­cuted because of their sex­ual iden­tity may well have been the main rea­son for leav­ing the coun­try of origin. It might also be a valid foun­da­tion for a suc­cess­ful appli­ca­tion for asy­lum in the EU, only for the per­son con­cerned to find out that they can­not be reunited with their part­ner.

In addi­tion to the pre­req­ui­site of an exist­ing mar­riage or rec­og­nized same-sex part­ner­ship, the spon­sor is also expected to provide evi­dence of an ade­quate income and enough liv­ing space for the prospec­tive united fam­ily. Fur­ther­more, the non-Ger­man part­ner needs to prove basic Ger­man lan­guage skills. Accepted asy­lum seek­ers and refugees are exempted from these require­ments. Chil­dren hold­ing a tem­po­rary or unre­stricted res­i­dence per­mit may also serve as spon­sors and apply to be reunited with their par­ents, though the pro­vi­sions in the Res­i­dence Act gen­er­ally assume that the per­son serv­ing as a spon­sor is an adult.

How­ever, Ger­man immi­gra­tion offices will not nec­es­sar­ily accept these pieces of evi­dence for an exist­ing fam­ily rela­tion, and even in cases where legal doc­u­ments are pro­vided, it is a com­mon admin­is­tra­tive prac­tice to ask the appli­cants for a DNA kin­ship report.12 There has been press cov­er­age of a case where more than ten pieces of evi­dence were pro­vided to the immi­gra­tion author­i­ties, but not accepted.13 More­over, the Ger­man Fed­eral For­eign Office has pub­lished a list of over 40 coun­tries whose doc­u­ments are not acknowl­edged by Ger­man embassies at all, because they assume that their sys­tem of iden­tity reg­is­tra­tion lacks sys­tem­atic and sound pro­ce­dures.14 Appli­cants from these coun­tries will find it extremely dif­fi­cult to prove a fam­ily rela­tion­ship by means of offi­cial doc­u­ments or alter­na­tive pieces of evi­dence. To obtain per­mis­sion to reunite with fam­ily mem­bers, they gen­er­ally have to resort to DNA test­ing. Even Ger­man cit­i­zens may be asked to provide DNA evi­dence for their bio­log­i­cal rela­tion if they apply for fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion with a for­eign spouse and chil­dren from one of these black­listed coun­tries.

The use of DNA test­ing is con­sid­ered to be an appro­pri­ate mea­sure to pre­vent fraud­u­lent uses of fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion.15 The Fed­eral For­eign Office states on its web­site that the deci­sion on black­listed coun­tries is made on the basis of an indi­vid­ual eval­u­a­tion of the like­li­hood of fal­si­fied doc­u­ments in the coun­try involved. How­ever, it is quite strik­ing that this list almost exclu­sively con­sists of coun­tries in sub-Saha­ran Africa and Cen­tral and South­east Asia. Doc­u­ments from coun­tries in these regions encoun­ter sys­tem­atic mis­trust, and as a con­se­quence it is espe­cially appli­cants with black skin or fam­i­lies from Cen­tral and South­east Asia that are requested to undergo parental test­ing. At the same time, cit­i­zens from West­ern coun­tries (e.g. the USA) or nation­als from other devel­op­ing coun­tries (e.g. in Latin Amer­ica) are not usu­ally required to provide DNA evi­dence. On a related note, they are also exempted from the require­ment of basic Ger­man lan­guage skills.

Given these con­di­tions, one might ask if the for­mal and pro­ce­du­ral argu­ment put for­ward by the immi­gra­tion author­i­ties serves to tar­get and dis­crim­i­nate against selec­tive groups of appli­cants who will gen­er­ally – regard­less of their par­tic­u­lar case – encoun­ter more prob­lems than other appli­cants in prov­ing their iden­tity and fam­ily relat­ed­ness. Refugee advi­sors and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of NGOs we inter­viewed report that appli­cants from some coun­tries such as Soma­lia, Eritrea, or Burma are almost always asked to provide DNA evi­dence for their fam­ily rela­tions.16

The pos­si­bil­ity of DNA kin­ship test­ing is explic­itly pro­vided for in the gen­eral admin­is­tra­tive reg­u­la­tions for the Res­i­dence Act (no. 27.0.5 AVwV Aufen­thG). The Fed­eral Office for Migra­tion and Refugees and the Fed­eral Min­istry of the Inte­rior present DNA test­ing as an entirely appro­pri­ate mea­sure to ver­ify fam­ily relat­ed­ness. They stress that DNA tests are not a con­straint but an oppor­tu­nity for the spon­sors and appli­cants to prove the valid­ity of their appli­ca­tion17. Fur­ther­more, they empha­size the vol­un­tary char­ac­ter of the DNA tests and argue that it is up to the appli­cants whether they choose this option. Finally, the author­i­ties point out that DNA evi­dence is only used as a last resort to estab­lish fam­ily links, if all other pos­si­ble options to ver­ify fam­ily relat­ed­ness have been exhausted. For exam­ple, the Fed­eral For­eign Office, which is respon­si­ble for issu­ing the visas for fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion, stated in response to our inquiry that the “DNA test for fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion is not a stan­dard but only an excep­tional case and … is only offered to the appli­cants if evi­dence rel­e­vant to the issue can­not oth­er­wise be pro­vided.”18

How­ever, the results of our research indi­cate that DNA test­ing for fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion is not an ultima ratio but a stan­dard tool for the ver­i­fi­ca­tion of a fam­ily rela­tion­ship in immi­gra­tion cases.19 The immi­gra­tion author­ity of a major city in Ger­many declared in a writ­ten state­ment sent in response to our inquiry: “While there is no oblig­a­tion for appli­cants even from coun­tries with an insuf­fi­cient offi­cial doc­u­men­ta­tion sys­tem to prove fam­ily rela­tion by DNA evi­dence, parental test­ing is an appro­pri­ate and fre­quently used tool of ver­i­fi­ca­tion.” A senior UNHCR offi­cer men­tioned in an inter­view that “we observe an infla­tion­ary use of DNA analy­ses for fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion for refugees from Africa and South­east Asia.”20 Fur­ther­more, a refugee advi­sor from a church infor­ma­tion cen­tre in a town in Ger­many stated that she alone had super­vised more than 20 cases of Somali refugees who were asked to prove their fam­ily rela­tions by a DNA test in the course of the fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion pro­ce­dure in 2010.

This appar­ent con­tra­dic­tion between the offi­cial state­ments and the find­ings of our research can be explained by the Ger­man legal frame­work for immi­gra­tion. Deci­sions on immi­gra­tion and visas have to be based on a case-by-case assess­ment. There­fore, author­i­ties have no legal grounds for a com­pre­hen­sive and sys­tem­atic use of parental tests in fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion cases, and even if it is a com­mon admin­is­tra­tive prac­tice, they can­not offi­cially con­firm it.

If the immi­gra­tion author­i­ties do not rec­og­nize the applicant’s doc­u­ments, they may “offer” him or her the option of tak­ing a DNA test to prove a bio­log­i­cal link to fam­ily mem­bers. As the bur­den of proof is always on the appli­cant and the test is a vol­un­tary option, it is up to the appli­cants to find a suit­able lab­o­ra­tory and orga­nize the entire test­ing pro­ce­dure. Once all rel­e­vant sam­ples are in the lab it will take two to three weeks for the results to be pro­vided to the appli­cant21, and this is also one of the biggest advan­tages of DNA test­ing for fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion. Appli­cants often have to wait for as long as a year before their doc­u­ments are checked and ver­i­fied by the author­i­ties, and it takes a very long time before they are reunited with their fam­ily mem­bers. With a DNA test, the deci­sion is some­times made within less than four months from the appli­ca­tion to the final deci­sion. This is also why immi­gra­tion lawyers often advise their clients to take the test. “We, the lawyers, are quite prag­matic in this respect. It has to go fast, [and] the DNA test is help­ful in this respect.”22

While the use of DNA evi­dence for fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion might offer some advan­tages in claim­ing cit­i­zen­ship rights, it often leads to a restric­tion of legal claims and cit­i­zen­ship rights by endors­ing a bio­log­i­cal con­cept of the fam­ily and by refus­ing the right to infor­ma­tional self-deter­mi­na­tion to appli­cants for fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion.

Biologizing the Family

The estab­lish­ment of DNA test­ing in admin­is­tra­tive deci­sion-mak­ing on fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion reduces the already nar­row def­i­n­i­tion of the fam­ily in Ger­man immi­gra­tion law to bio­log­i­cal ances­try. This ten­dency con­trasts with the social under­stand­ing and the legal fram­ing of the fam­ily for Ger­man cit­i­zens. The rou­tiniza­tion of divorce and remar­riage and the grow­ing legal recog­ni­tion of same-sex unions have gen­er­ated het­ero­ge­neous pat­terns of fam­ily struc­ture and a diver­sity of new kin con­nec­tions that are not nec­es­sar­ily based on bio­log­i­cal ties. In recent years, sev­eral laws have come into force or been amended with the aim of empha­siz­ing the social aspects of par­ent­hood and pater­nity. In this per­spec­tive, par­ent­hood is not defined in terms of bio­log­i­cal relat­ed­ness but rather as a social rela­tion. The Fed­eral Court of Jus­tice argued in a 2008 judg­ment that this kind of socio-famil­ial rela­tion exists if the legal father has been shown to be respon­si­ble for look­ing after the child. If this is the case, the bio­log­i­cal father can­not ques­tion the already exist­ing social father­hood. This line of argu­men­ta­tion as used by the Fed­eral Court of Jus­tice has been upheld by the Euro­pean Court of Human Rights in 2013.

Fur­ther­more, mar­ried and unmar­ried cou­ples have increas­ingly been treated equally in legal prac­tice in the last 10 to 15 years, and with the intro­duc­tion of the Life Part­ner­ship Act in 2001 same-sex unions are now legally rec­og­nized in Ger­many as well. In this con­text it has also been made eas­ier for unmar­ried cou­ples and same-sex part­ners to adopt stepchil­dren. These leg­isla­tive steps also stress the fam­ily as a social rela­tion. In a press release in 2009, the Fed­eral Con­sti­tu­tional Court pointed out that “bio­log­i­cal par­ent­hood is not pri­or­i­tized over legal and social notions of the fam­ily in the juris­dic­tion of the Fed­eral Con­sti­tu­tional Court”23

A com­pletely dif­fer­ent trend can be observed in Ger­man immi­gra­tion law. With the use of parental test­ing in deci­sion-mak­ing on fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion, the fam­ily is increas­ingly con­ceived of as a bio­log­i­cal entity. Con­se­quently, migrants will find it dif­fi­cult to enter Ger­many if they do not adhere to the nuclear fam­ily model. For exam­ple, fos­ter chil­dren and adopted chil­dren have seri­ous prob­lems reunit­ing with their fam­i­lies. Accord­ing to Ger­man immi­gra­tion law, no dis­tinc­tion shall be made between bio­log­i­cal chil­dren and adopted chil­dren if the appli­cants can prove the adop­tion by offi­cial doc­u­men­ta­tion. As Ger­man author­i­ties con­sider offi­cial reg­is­tra­tion sys­tems in the black­listed coun­tries to be insuf­fi­cient, this claim is dif­fi­cult to sus­tain in admin­is­tra­tive prac­tice.

The prac­tice of fam­ily uni­fi­ca­tion in Ger­many exhibits a dif­fer­en­tial treat­ment of native cit­i­zens and immi­grants. The lat­ter have to com­ply with a tra­di­tional het­ero­sex­ual and bio­log­i­cal fam­ily model in order to be offi­cially rec­og­nized as a fam­ily in immi­gra­tion cases. The prob­lems that arise from these con­flict­ing def­i­n­i­tions of the fam­ily for native cit­i­zens and immi­grants can be illus­trated by a parental test that was car­ried out in a Ger­man lab­o­ra­tory in 2010. The appli­ca­tion for fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion by a man, a woman, and a girl from Soma­lia was turned down by the Ger­man author­i­ties ear­lier that year because they ques­tioned the authen­tic­ity of the doc­u­ments pro­vided. Thus, the appli­cants had to resort to a DNA test to prove their fam­ily relat­ed­ness. The test result showed that nei­ther the puta­tive father nor the puta­tive mother was bio­log­i­cally linked to the child. In other words, the test result demon­strated that these three per­sons were not a fam­ily in terms of bio­log­i­cal relat­ed­ness. How­ever, the staff of the DNA lab were so con­vinced that the appli­cants were indeed a fam­ily, even though the result was neg­a­tive, that they wrote let­ters to the immi­gra­tion author­i­ties argu­ing that the result could only be explained by an exchange of chil­dren after their birth in the hos­pi­tal and that they would nev­er­the­less advo­cate fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion. It is quite remark­able that the insti­tu­tion that pro­duced a test result that elim­i­nated the pos­si­bil­ity of a fam­ily rela­tion, accord­ing to their own def­i­n­i­tion, still felt obliged to argue that the three per­sons were a “true” fam­ily. The case was reported to us by the geneti­cists involved in the pro­ce­dure24, and their argu­ment was clearly based on a social def­i­n­i­tion of the fam­ily.25

These dif­fer­ent stan­dards for fam­ily recog­ni­tion exist not only in Ger­many but in many host coun­tries26 As fam­ily poli­cies in these coun­tries gen­er­ally tend to favor social notions of the fam­ily, the legal gap between native cit­i­zens and immi­grants may grow wider, since for the lat­ter group the focus is on bio­log­i­cal relat­ed­ness, while same-sex part­ner­ships and patch­work fam­i­lies are not equally rec­og­nized – a trend that is fur­ther strength­ened and rein­forced by the use of parental test­ing for fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion.

Genetic Surveillance

The first DNA tests for fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion in Ger­many were car­ried out in 199227. Until 2010, how­ever, they were con­ducted in a legal grey area. While proofs of kin­ship by DNA analy­sis were a more or less com­mon insti­tu­tional prac­tice in this period, they were con­ducted with­out any legal reg­u­la­tion. DNA test­ing for immi­gra­tion pur­poses was first men­tioned in the Genetic Diag­nos­tics Law (Gen­di­ag­nos­tikge­setz), which came into force on Feb­ru­ary 1, 2010 and con­tains a sec­tion deal­ing solely with kin­ship DNA test­ing (Sec. 3, Para­graph 17, GenDG). The gen­eral focus of this law is on the right to infor­ma­tional self-deter­mi­na­tion, with the aim of pro­tect­ing indi­vid­u­als from the abuse of their genetic infor­ma­tion.28

How­ever, for the use of genetic data in the con­text of fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion, impor­tant legal guar­an­tees are inop­er­a­tive. First, and it almost goes with­out say­ing, the right to infor­ma­tional self-deter­mi­na­tion in the con­text of fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion is just a for­mal or the­o­ret­i­cal right. In prac­tice, it may well be the only chance for a per­son actu­ally to reunite with his/her fam­ily if the doc­u­ments s/he has pro­vided are not deemed appro­pri­ate to prove fam­ily rela­tions. The bur­den of proof is on the appli­cant, which may force him or her to resort to a DNA test. There­fore, it might be doubted how vol­un­tary the use of DNA analy­sis in this con­text can be if the appli­ca­tion for fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion will be rejected oth­er­wise. Here, we note a remark­able par­al­lel to foren­sic DNA pro­fil­ing. “Per­sons who refuse to give a ‘vol­un­tary’ sam­ple (which is their legal right) attract police atten­tion and become more sus­pi­cious as a result”29 as it is assumed that some­one who rejects the “vol­un­tary” DNA test has some­thing to hide30

Sec­ondly, immi­grants have no right to decide what hap­pens to the DNA pro­files once the test has been car­ried out. They can­not demand that their genetic infor­ma­tion be destroyed, and their data might be used for crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion pur­poses if there is rea­son­able sus­pi­cion that a crim­i­nal offence has been com­mit­ted by the immi­grant in ques­tion31. Their pro­file may be stored in a DNA data­base in accor­dance with the Prüm Con­ven­tion, and this infor­ma­tion may be exchanged among Euro­pean mem­ber states for crime pre­ven­tion pur­poses. In other words, appli­cants for fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion are more likely to come under sus­pi­cion of crim­i­nal activ­ity. While the Genetic Diag­nos­tics Law in its entirety strength­ens the right to infor­ma­tional self-deter­mi­na­tion for Ger­man cit­i­zens, it denies immi­grants this right. In gen­eral, the legal frame­work for DNA test­ing in fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion cases estab­lishes an envi­ron­ment of mis­trust towards immi­grants and pro­vides new means for sur­veilling them32


The use of DNA test­ing for fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion cre­ates a gen­eral “dou­ble stan­dard” for native cit­i­zens and immi­grants. It imposes a very restricted, bio­log­i­cal def­i­n­i­tion of the fam­ily onto immi­grants, under­min­ing the vary­ing social def­i­n­i­tions of fam­ily forms; and immi­grants are not given the same rights to the access, han­dling, and pro­tec­tion of genetic infor­ma­tion.

On the basis of this empir­i­cal research, the very con­cept of bio­log­i­cal cit­i­zen­ship has to be ren­dered more com­plex, in two respects. First, the exist­ing lit­er­a­ture too often stresses the transna­tional dynam­ics of patient orga­ni­za­tions and sup­port groups. We do not deny the med­ical sig­nif­i­cance and the soci­etal impact of sup­port group and patient asso­ci­a­tions for (genetic) dis­eases that are char­ac­ter­ized by forms of orga­ni­za­tion and modes of com­mu­ni­ca­tion often trans­gress­ing national bor­ders33 How­ever, the use of DNA tests in immi­gra­tion dis­plays the endur­ing rel­e­vance of bio­log­i­cal cri­te­ria to deter­mine who should be granted cit­i­zen­ship rights in a par­tic­u­lar nation-state. It fol­lows that there is not only a transna­tional dynamic to be observed, but also a con­tin­u­a­tion and re-artic­u­la­tion of the rela­tion between biol­ogy and cit­i­zen­ship.

Sec­ondly, the lit­er­a­ture on bio­log­i­cal cit­i­zen­ship some­times insists that there is a deci­sive rup­ture between the eugenic projects and racial­ized pol­i­tics of the past and the new genet­ics. Niko­las Rose and Car­los Novas argue that bio­log­i­cal cit­i­zen­ship stands for a new gov­ern­men­tal regime which rad­i­cally breaks with the eugenic and racial­ized past, and that there has been a shift from polit­i­cal ratio­nal­i­ties directed toward the man­age­ment of risk at the level of pop­u­la­tions to the indi­vid­ual man­age­ment of genetic risks34. In the light of our empir­i­cal study this claim has to be recon­sid­ered. The use of DNA analy­sis in the con­text of fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion rep­re­sents a form of migra­tion con­trol tar­geted at par­tic­u­lar pop­u­la­tions – in Ger­many espe­cially those who derive from “black­listed coun­tries,” mostly from sub-Saha­ran Africa and Cen­tral and South­east Asia. In this respect, the the­sis that the use of genetic infor­ma­tion for pop­u­la­tion con­trol belongs to the biopol­i­tics of the past has to be com­ple­mented or even cor­rected. Immi­gra­tion man­age­ment and bor­der con­trol are cen­tral domains where the “eclipsed” side of cur­rent bio­log­i­cal cit­i­zen­ship mate­ri­al­izes.35

The use of DNA tests for deci­sion-mak­ing in the con­text of immi­gra­tion reveals the selec­tive for­mat of the debate on bio­log­i­cal cit­i­zen­ship. So far, this dis­cus­sion has often stressed the bio­log­i­cal body as the basis of claims about social inclu­sion, recog­ni­tion and demo­c­ra­tic delib­er­a­tion. How­ever, as our study demon­strates, this view of bio­log­i­cal cit­i­zen­ship itself excludes impor­tant dimen­sions of con­tem­po­rary migra­tion regimes. The use of DNA test­ing in immi­gra­tion poli­cies does not sig­nify the advent of a “mol­e­c­u­lar biopol­i­tics”36 that finally dis­places the con­cern with bod­ily fea­tures such as skin color, hair tex­ture or eye shape. Rather, it serves to reaf­firm and re-artic­u­late “tra­di­tional” forms of clas­si­fi­ca­tion and exclu­sion.37


  1. Will Kym­licka and Wayne Nor­man “Return of the Cit­i­zen: A sur­vey of recent work on cit­i­zen­ship the­ory,” Ethics 104, no. 2 (1994): 352-381. 

  2. Saskia Sassen, “Towards Post-National and Dena­tion­al­ized Cit­i­zen­ship.“ In Hand­book of Cit­i­zen­ship Stud­ies, eds. Engin F. Isin and Bryan S. Turner (Lon­don: Sage, 2002), 277-92. 

  3. Adri­ana Petryna, Life Exposed: Bio­log­i­cal Cit­i­zens after Cher­nobyl (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity Press, 2002); Niko­las Rose and Car­los Novas, “Bio­log­i­cal Cit­i­zen­ship,” in Global Assem­blages: Tech­nol­ogy, pol­i­tics, and ethics as anthro­po­log­i­cal prob­lems, eds. Aihwa Ong and Stephen J. Col­lier (Malden, MA: Black­well Pub­lish­ers, 2005), 439-63. 

  4. Anne Kerr, “Genet­ics and cit­i­zen­ship,” Soci­ety 40, no. 6 (2003): 44-50; Deb­o­rah Heath, Rayna Rapp, and Karen-Sue Taus­sig, “Genetic Cit­i­zen­ship,” in A Com­pan­ion to the Anthro­pol­ogy of Pol­i­tics, eds. David Nugent and Joan Vin­cent (Malden, MA: Black­well Pub­lish­ers, 2004), 152-67. 

  5. Roger Cooter, “Bioc­i­t­i­zen­ship,” The Lancet 372, no. 9651 (2008): 1725. 

  6. Petryna, 2002. 

  7. Petryna, 2002, 6. 

  8. Heath, Rapp, and Taus­sig, 2004; Rose and Novas, 2005; Michel Cal­lon and Vololona Rabeharisoa, “The Grow­ing Engage­ment of Emer­gent Con­cerned Groups in Polit­i­cal and Eco­nomic Life: Lessons from the French Asso­ci­a­tion of Neu­ro­mus­cu­lar Dis­ease Patients,” Sci­ence Tech­nol­ogy & Human Val­ues 33, no. 2 (2007): 230-61; Niko­las Rose, The Pol­i­tics of Life itself: Bio­med­i­cine, Power, and Sub­jec­tiv­ity in the Twenty-First Cen­tury (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity Press, 2007); Ruth Fitzger­ald, “Bio­log­i­cal cit­i­zen­ship at the periph­ery: par­ent­ing chil­dren with genetic dis­or­ders,” New Genet­ics and Soci­ety 27, no. 3 (2008): 251-66; Rebecca Schaf­fer, Kristine Kuczyn­ski, and Debra Skin­ner, “Pro­duc­ing Genetic Knowl­edge and Cit­i­zen­ship through the Inter­net: moth­ers, pedi­atric genet­ics, and cyber­med­i­cine,” Soci­ol­ogy of Health and Ill­ness 30, no. 1 (2008): 145-59; Suzanne Fraser, “Hepati­tis C and the Lim­its of Med­ical­i­sa­tion and bio­log­i­cal cit­i­zen­ship for peo­ple who inject drugs,” Addic­tion Research & The­ory 18, no. 5 (2010): 544-56; David Reubi, “Blood Donors, Devel­op­ment and Mod­erni­sa­tion: con­fig­u­ra­tions of bio­log­i­cal social­ity and cit­i­zen­ship in post-colo­nial Sin­ga­pore.” Cit­i­zen­ship Stud­ies 14, no. 5 (2010): 473-93. 

  9. Louise, Amoore, “Bio­met­ric Bor­ders: Gov­ern­ing mobil­i­ties in the war on ter­ror,” Polit­i­cal Geog­ra­phy 25, no. 3 (2006): 336-51; Thomas Lemke and Peter Wehling, “Bürg­er­rechte durch Biolo­gie? Kri­tis­che Anmerkun­gen zur Kon­junk­tur des Begriffs ‘biol­o­gis­che Bürg­er­schaft,’” in Bios und Zoë: Die men­schliche Natur im Zeital­ter ihrer tech­nis­chen Repro­duzier­barkeit, ed. Mar­tin G. Weiss (Frank­furt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2009), 72-107); Sujatha Raman and Richard Tut­ton, “Life, Sci­ence, and Biopower,” Sci­ence Tech­nol­ogy & Human Val­ues 35, no. 5 (2010): 711-34; Andreas Brekke and Thor­vald Sir­nes, “Bioso­cial­ity, bioc­i­t­i­zen­ship and the new regime of hope and despair: inter­pret­ing ‘Por­traits of Hope’ and the ‘Mehmet Case,’” New Genet­ics and Soci­ety 30 no. 4 (2011): 347-74; Peter Wehling, “Biol­ogy, Cit­i­zen­ship and the Gov­ern­ment of Bio­med­i­cine: Explor­ing the Con­cept of Bio­log­i­cal Cit­i­zen­ship,” in Gov­ern­men­tal­ity: Cur­rent issues and future chal­lenges, eds. Ulrich Bröck­ling, Susanne Kras­mann, and Thomas Lemke, (New York, NY: Rout­ledge, 2011), 225-46. 

  10. The argu­ment is based on exten­sive field­work, doc­u­ment analy­sis and inter­views with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Ger­man immi­gra­tion author­i­ties, inter­na­tional and national NGOs lawyers spe­cial­iz­ing in fam­ily and immi­gra­tion law, geneti­cists in foren­sic lab­o­ra­to­ries and appli­ca­tions for fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion. For more details on the research agenda and method­ol­ogy see 

  11. Torsten Heine­mann and Thomas Lemke, “Sus­pect fam­i­lies: DNA kin­ship test­ing in Ger­man immi­gra­tion pol­icy,” Soci­ol­ogy 47, no. 4 (2013): 810-827. 

  12. Axel Kreien­brink and Ste­fan Rühl, Fam­ily Reuni­fi­ca­tion in Ger­many: Small Scale Study IV in the Frame­work of the Euro­pean Migra­tion Net­work (Nurem­berg: Fed­eral Office for Migra­tion and Refugees, 2007); Ger­man Bun­destag, “DNS-Abstam­mungsgutachten im Rah­men von aufen­thalt­srechtlichen Iden­titäts­fest­stel­lun­gen. Antwort auf die Kleine Anfrage der Abge­ord­neten Ulla Jelpke, Sevim Dagde­len, Jan Korte und der Frak­tion DIE LINKE,” Druck­sache 16/7698 (2008), 1-5; Wal­ter Frenz, “Begren­zung aus­län­der­rechtlicher Maß­nah­men durch europäis­che Grun­drechte.” ZAR 28, no. 11/12 (2008): 385-88; UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees, “UNHCR Note on DNA Test­ing to Estab­lish Fam­ily Rela­tion­ships in the Refugee Con­text,” 2008, (accessed Jan­u­ary 15, 2012); Euro­pean Migra­tion Net­work, “Ad-Hoc Query on Ver­i­fi­ca­tion of legal­ity and gen­uine­ness of mar­riage & val­i­da­tion of pater­nity,” 2011, (accessed Sep­tem­ber 18, 2012). 

  13. Vera Gaserow, “Gren­zen dicht für Bir­maner: Anwälte: Zwang zum Gen­test bei Fam­i­li­en­nachzug ist unüber­wind­bare Hürde,” Frank­furter Rund­schau (Octo­ber 22, 2007), 8; Vik­tor Funk, “Mal DNA-Test, mal Fam­i­lien­foto.” Frank­furter Rund­schau (Sep­tem­ber 30, 2008), 9. 

  14. Ger­man Bun­destag, 2008 

  15. Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, “Green paper on the right of fam­ily reuni­fi­ca­tion of third-coun­try nation­als liv­ing in the Euro­pean Union (Direc­tive 2033/86/EC)” COM (2011), 735; Müller, 2012. 

  16. Lawyers 1, 2, 4; NGO offi­cers 1 and 2. 

  17. Ger­man Bun­destag, 2008, 2010. 

  18. Immi­gra­tion author­ity 3. 

  19. UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees, 2008; NGO offi­cers 2 and 3 

  20. UNHCR senior offi­cer 

  21. Geneti­cist 1-5 

  22. Lawyer 2 

  23. Fed­eral Con­sti­tu­tional Court, “Pressemit­teilung Nr. 98/2009 vom 25. August 2009,” (accessed Octo­ber 15, 2012). 

  24. Geneti­cists 3 

  25. At the time of the inter­view the appli­cants were still wait­ing for the deci­sion of the immi­gra­tion author­i­ties. 

  26. See, Torsten Heine­mann, Ilpo Helén, Thomas Lemke, Ursula Naue, and Mar­tin G. Weiss, eds., Sus­pect Fam­i­lies: DNA Analy­sis, Fam­ily Reuni­fi­ca­tion and Immi­gra­tion Poli­cies (Farn­ham: Ash­gate, forth­com­ing 2015). 

  27. Geneti­cist 2 

  28. The right to “infor­ma­tional self-deter­mi­na­tion” is grounded in the gen­eral right of per­son­al­ity rooted in Art. 2 (1) and Art. 1 (1) of the Ger­man Con­sti­tu­tion (Grundge­setz) which pro­tects the per­sonal sphere of life, guar­an­tee­ing respect for human dig­nity and the right of free devel­op­ment of one’s per­son­al­ity. 

  29. Simon J. Walsh and John S. Buck­le­ton, “DNA Intel­li­gence Data­bases,” in Foren­sic DNA Evi­dence Inter­pre­ta­tion, eds. John S. Buck­le­ton, Christo­pher M. Triggs, and Simon J. Walsh (Boca Raton; Lon­don; New York, NY; Wash­ing­ton, DC: CRC Press, 2005), 445. 

  30. Richard Hind­marsh and Bar­bara Prain­sack, Genetic Sus­pects: Global gov­er­nance of foren­sic DNA pro­fil­ing and data­bas­ing (Cam­bridge, UK, New York, NY: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Press, 2010). 

  31. Act of Genetic Diag­nos­tics §17, 8 

  32. Katja F. Aas, “‘Crim­mi­grant’ bod­ies and bona fide trav­el­ers: Sur­veil­lance, cit­i­zen­ship and global gov­er­nance,” The­o­ret­i­cal Crim­i­nol­ogy 15 no 3. (2011): 331-46. 

  33. see also, Steven Epstein, Impure Sci­ence: Aids, Activism, and the Pol­i­tics of Knowl­edge (Berke­ley, CA, Lon­don: Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Press, 1996); Michel Cal­lon and Vololona Rabeharisoa, “La leçon d’humanité de Gino,” Réseaux 17, no. 95 (1999): 197-233; Phil Brown, Stephen Zavestoski, Sabrina McCormick, Brian Mayer, Rachel Morello-Frosch, and Rebecca Alt­man, “Embod­ied Health Move­ments: New Approaches to Social Move­ments in Health,” Per­spec­tives in Med­ical Soci­ol­ogy, ed. Phil Brown (Long Grove: Wave­land Press, 2008), 521-38. 

  34. Rose and Novas, 2005, 132-33; Rose, 2007, 54-64 

  35. As long as ten years ago, Anne Kerr rightly cau­tioned against “the pre­vail­ing empha­sis on trans­for­ma­tion” in the debate on bio­log­i­cal and genetic cit­i­zen­ship: “Although it is impor­tant to reject sim­plis­tic par­al­lels between the eugen­ics of the past and the genet­ics of the present, there is a dan­ger that this focus on trans­for­ma­tions is result­ing in less atten­tion being paid to the sta­tic and reac­tionary aspects of the ‘new’ genet­ics and its wider social con­text,” Anne Kerr, “Genet­ics and cit­i­zen­ship,” 2003, 44. 

  36. Rose, 2007, 12. 

  37. This is a sub­stan­tially revised ver­sion of an arti­cle that has been pre­vi­ously pub­lished: Torsten Heine­mann and Thomas Lemke, “Bio­log­i­cal Cit­i­zen­ship Recon­sid­ered: The Use of DNA Analy­sis by Immi­gra­tion Author­i­ties in Ger­many.“ Sci­ence, Tech­nol­ogy and Human Val­ues 39, no. 4 (2014): 488-510. 

Authors of the article

is a Fritz Thyssen Foundation Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of European Ethnology at the Humboldt University of Berlin, and associate Senior Research Fellow in the Biotechnologies, Nature and Society Research Group at the Goethe University Frankfurt in Germany. His research interests are in social theory, cultural sociology and social studies of science and technology with a special focus on the neurosciences, genetics and biomedicine. Recent publications include Populäre Wissenschaft: Hirnforschung zwischen Labor und Talkshow (Wallstein, 2012); and Risky Profiles: Societal Dimensions of Forensic Uses of DNA Profiling Technologies (co-edited with Thomas Lemke and Barbara Prainsack), Special Issue of New Genetics and Society, 2012.

is Professor of Sociology with a focus on Biotechnologies, Nature and Society in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Goethe University Frankfurt in Germany. His research interests cover social and political theory, biopolitics, and social studies of genetic and reproductive technologies. Recent publications include Perspectives on Genetic Discrimination(Routledge, 2013); Governmentality: Current Issues and Future Challenges (co-edited with Ulrich Bröckling and Susanne Krasmann; Routledge, 2011); Biopolitics: An Advanced Introduction (New York University Press, 2011); and Foucault, Governmentality and Critique (Paradigm, 2011).