Background checks are standard for most companies in the United States. In some sectors, like education and financial services, background screening is actually required by government regulations. Even in cases where background checks are not mandated, they can help minimize a company’s risk for legal exposure and could reduce attrition by ensuring than an applicant is a suitable fit for the position.
As labor forces have globalized, companies are progressively faced with the job of conducting international background checks on people from other countries. In 1960, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics determined that approximately six percent of the U.S. workforce were non-US citizens. Today, that number is greater than 16 percent. With nearly 12 million people who are foreign-born now employed by U.S. companies, you may have already faced the need for international background checks or you will most likely face this need at some point in the near future.
In the USA, it’s very simple to access any number and types of records on applicants, including criminal convictions, credit history, previous employment and education credentials. However, conducting a “conventional” background check on non-US citizens can pose some legal challenges, if not done appropriately.
You must understand that your company can be held liable if any laws from the applicant’s country of citizenship are violated. For example, in Poland, employers are prohibited from accessing a criminal history, while credit checks cannot be released in Australia. If these kinds of laws are violated, it makes companies vulnerable to litigation, particularly if a hiring decision is based on information that was obtained illegally.
In many cases, legal risks can be effectively managed, and background screening companies can recommend the best options.
In the United States, comprehensive background checks can be performed quickly. However, accessing comparable information in other countries is much more time-consuming. Simple things that Americans take for granted, like communication systems and data infrastructure, are less advanced in many other countries, which can cause a longer turnaround time. In addition, desired data may simply be limited or unavailable. For example, detailed criminal and civil records are not maintained everywhere, and some acts that are considered crimes in the U.S., like bribery and drug use, may not be punishable offenses in other countries.
In other instances, the records may be accessible but it’s possible they will not cover the time period required by the company. For example, U.S. regulations require that some financial services companies conduct a criminal records search dating back seven years. However, a criminal history is only maintained for five years in India.
Any such limits must be noted as exceptions to the regulation and the company must demonstrate that it has implemented all reasonable and legal steps to access the information that is required for the position.
In most cases, this additional effort will reduce the company’s legal risk in the event that any concerns are raised after the person is hired.
In our truly global economy, qualified candidates exist all over the world. With additional knowledge and patience, companies can tap into the international talent pool and make safe hires with confidence.