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International Criminal Background Checks

International Criminal Background Checks


National Background Check Program (NBCP) grantee States may want to conduct international criminal background checks on certain applicants (i.e., those who have lived overseas) for direct access employment in the long term care industry. This resource document provides States with an overview of the challenges associated with conducting international criminal background checks, options for obtaining international criminal background checks, and issues, services, and costs associated with these options.


Are international criminal background checks required under the NBCP?
What is the first step a grantee State agency should take if it wants to conduct international criminal background checks?
What are the challenges of conducting international criminal background checks?
What are the potential options for States interested in international criminal background checks?
How does each option affect the State?
What are the steps for States wanting to move forward with international criminal background checks?

Are international criminal background checks required under the NBCP?

International criminal background checks are not an NBCP requirement, but States may elect to perform them when appropriate (e.g., when an applicant has moved to the State from an international location) to help ensure a thorough applicant screening process.

What is the first step a grantee State agency should take if it wants to conduct international criminal background checks?

The first step a grantee State agency should take is to notify and seek information from its Criminal Justice Information Services systems officer (CSO) and State Identification Bureau (SIB) representatives.

What are the challenges of conducting international criminal background checks?

Conducting reliable international criminal background checks is difficult due to variation in the level of sophistication of criminal history record-keeping systems in foreign countries. In many instances, international criminal background checks are based on name and date of birth only and, as such, suffer from the limitations of name-based (as opposed to fingerprint-based) checks, such as difficulties related to individuals with common names, aliases, and false names provided by individuals during arrest situations.

Access to fingerprint-based checks in foreign countries is typically limited to law enforcement agencies as part of criminal investigations; such checks generally are not available as a part of pre-employment screenings. Many countries do not have a national criminal history database; therefore, criminal history checks are conducted in the city or local area where the individual previously lived. Many countries also do not have automated systems, and their manual systems are often unreliable. Additionally, there are often restrictions on the release of criminal history information.

What are the potential options for States interested in international criminal background checks?

In this section, we present four options for conducting international criminal background checks. The discussions below provide information on how each option works and highlight key differences between the options.

Option 1 – Hire a private vendor

A number of private vendors advertise that they will conduct international criminal background checks and some maintain their own Internet-based background screening systems. These vendors primarily conduct name- and date of birth-based criminal history checks, but they generally do not conduct fingerprint-based checks.

These vendors’ processes typically involve the following steps:

  • Prospective employees complete a waiver and authorization form on a secure website that is specifically designed for each client, the organization for which the private vendor is conducting criminal background checks.
  • Applicants enter their professional and personal data into an online questionnaire on the same secure website.
  • Based on the information in the completed questionnaire, waiver, and authorization form, the vendor conducts the international criminal background check.
  • The vendor prepares a report based on the findings from the criminal background check and delivers it to the client via the secure website.

Some systems allow clients to monitor the progress of the criminal background check on the website so they are able track the status of each of their applicants.

CNA recommends that States investigate potential vendors by checking prior business references, credit history, and Better Business listings, and by checking for past or current litigation. In addition, it is important to verify that the vendor provides results through a secure website.

The State also needs to verify that the vendor’s criminal background checks include appropriate sources (e.g., national-level or provincial-level law enforcement records, court records) and are more than Internet-based searches or news media-based searches alone. Another challenge is that some vendors only focus on a limited number of countries.

See the International Criminal Background Checks: Additional Information resource document for more information on the process of selecting a vendor.

Option 2 – Submit requests through embassies

Submitting requests to foreign embassies in the U.S. is another potential method to obtain criminal history record information on citizens of other nations. Many embassies have established guidelines for responding to such requests, and are experienced in providing such information.

Under this option, the State would identify the countries in which a prospective direct access employee previously resided and contact the embassies for those countries.

In addition to contacting foreign embassies in the United States, it is also possible to submit requests through the American embassies in the relevant countries. States can ask for assistance in obtaining criminal history information through foreign governments and law enforcement agencies by contacting the American embassy in any given country. Although it is likely that only name-based checks would be conducted under this option, fingerprint-based checks may be possible. It would be the State’s responsibility to make sure all authorization forms are translated into the applicant’s language and all resulting documents are translated into English. An embassy request fee may be applicable, plus any translation fees.

Option 3 – Submit requests through Interpol

Interpol is an international organization whose mission is to facilitate the exchange of police information and promote cooperation and assistance between the law enforcement authorities of its 188 member countries, including the United States. Its resources include databases containing information supplied by its member countries on individuals on “wanted” lists and persons with criminal histories. CSOs and SIB representatives may be able to assist with contacting Interpol.

Each country participating in Interpol has a National Central Bureau (NCB), which essentially is the Interpol office in that country. The United States National Central Bureau (USNCB), which is co-managed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, only responds to requests from certified law enforcement agencies. However, each country’s NCB has different polices, and some countries’ NCBs may honor requests to conduct employment-related criminal history checks from non-law enforcement agencies. These checks would most likely be name-based checks. Criminal background check fees vary among NCBs.

Option 4 – Request that applicants obtain their own international criminal background check reports

Obtaining records from some countries may be more readily accomplished by asking the applicant to make the criminal background check request on his or her own behalf. Requiring applicants to obtain the criminal history report would ease the burden on the State; however, it could also raise the potential for forged or altered documents. If the State agency adopts this method, it should develop policies to require sealed and certified documents, and develop a process to verify the authenticity of the person who signed the criminal history report. In addition, applicants would need to be provided with contact information for their consulate offices in the United States to determine how to acquire the appropriate national or local criminal history reports, depending on what is available in their countries.

How does each option affect the State?

Option 1 places some burden on the State and employers to obtain a release from each prospective employee, and it is likely to be the most expensive approach because of the fees charged by private vendors. Options 2 and 3 place the heaviest burden on State staff in that they would not only need to obtain authorization forms from prospective employees, but they would also be required to request information from the NCBs or embassies of the foreign countries. Option 4 places the primary burden of obtaining international criminal background check information on the applicant; however, this option places the burden on the State to verify the information provided by the applicant.

What are the steps for States wanting to move forward with international criminal background checks?

CNA is available to work with States to determine whether to include international criminal background checks in their NBCP initiatives and evaluate the available options. Some of the possible steps in the process include:

  • Developing a list of countries from which the State would most likely need to request criminal background checks;
  • Developing criteria for the screening and selection of international private background investigation vendors;
  • Developing draft applicant criminal history release and authorization forms in multiple languages;
  • Contacting various countries’ NCBs to determine their ability to conduct pre-employment criminal background checks;
  • Contacting various foreign embassies and U.S. embassies abroad to determine their ability to conduct pre-employment criminal background checks; and
  • Assessing whether additional provider or applicant fees are appropriate when international criminal background checks are required and, if so, determining the appropriate level of those fees.