Globalization and outsourcing have led many U.S.-based organizations to expand their business operations internationally and increase their hiring of foreigners. Hiring foreign nationals brings an additional challenge: conducting an international background check.
The need for international screening occurs when:
- A foreign national or U.S. citizen, citing employment or educational records from abroad, applies for work in the U.S.
- A U.S.-based company is hiring in another country.
The difficulties in performing international background checks or verifying foreign credentials range from not understanding foreign customs and laws to the time and expense required to properly screen potential employees.
“Background screening must be done internationally, since an increasing number of workers have spent time living, working and attending school abroad,” said attorney Lester Rosen, the CEO of Employment Screening Resources and author of The Safe Hiring Manual (Facts on Demand Press, 2012), a comprehensive guide on employment screening. And the fact that information may be more difficult to obtain outside the U.S. does not relieve employers from their due-diligence obligation associated with hiring, Rosen noted.
According to employment-screening provider HireRight’s 2013 Employment Screening Benchmarking Report, 55 percent of 1,600 respondents said they recruit U.S.-based candidates with educational or employment experience in other countries. Of those who do, 69 percent verify the foreign experience. This number jumps to 80 percent for larger organizations with more than 500 employees. About two-thirds (65 percent) use a background-screening provider to verify foreign work experience, 38 percent ask candidates for documentation, and 32 percent confirm information directly with the foreign employer or school.
A much smaller percentage of respondents (14 percent) have facilities in foreign locations that require employment screening, though this number jumps to 32 percent for larger organizations.
The top reasons these employers are conducting international background checks are to comply with regulatory requirements (49 percent), to standardize their quality of hire (49 percent) and to protect against negligent-hiring risks (46 percent). Only 40 percent of respondents are screening all job candidates abroad, while 38 percent are screening select candidates.
According to HireRight, these are the five commonly cited reasons for not conducting international background checks:
Global screening is only for multinational companies. “Global employment screening isn’t just for organizations that have offices or locations in other countries—it also refers to performing background checks on domestic-based candidates who have lived, worked or studied in another country,” clarified Dan Shoemaker, vice president of international business at HireRight. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 15.9 percent of the U.S. workforce is foreign-born.
It’s difficult to know where to start. Unlike the common domestic employment screening, for which companies likely have established processes and policies, international background screening may be foreign territory for businesses. “The most important element you should establish at the very beginning is to capture what your organization is hoping to achieve by screening candidates with foreign experience,” Shoemaker said. “These goals will help guide you through the entire process and better ensure that you stay on track as you consider global background screening.”
Global background screening is just too complex. It’s true that performing an international background check is probably not as straightforward as it is in the U.S., but much of this perceived complexity likely stems from a lack of familiarity, Shoemaker said. The more you do global screening, the more you’ll become comfortable with it, he assured.
International checks take too long. Time to hire is a critical concern for companies. According to HireRight, there is a perception among employers that background checks in other countries take far too long and could negatively affect a candidate’s experience. “While background checks in countries outside the U.S. could take longer than the average domestic check, this is time well invested into both the success of your organization as well as an improved candidate experience,” Shoemaker said.
Background screening globally costs too much. Though a global background check may be more costly than a domestic screen, usually it represents a wise allocation of your budget, experts agree.
The Benefits of Global Screening
So what are the benefits of global background checks?
Verifying a candidate’s experience. Shoemaker explained that many savvy applicants have grasped that businesses may be less likely to confirm work experience and education in other countries than to conduct a domestic criminal background check; thus, these individuals may try to cheat the system by claiming they have degrees from foreign universities or work experience in other countries, hoping that their prospective employer will not check this information.
Another concern is the proliferation of so-called diploma mills outside the United States.
“The world is awash with phony schools, fake degrees and worthless diplomas,” Rosen observed. “If the employer is not familiar with a school, research should be conducted. A legitimate school will often have an e-mail address or phone number so that they can be easily contacted to verify a degree.”
Ensuring a consistent hiring experience for all job candidates. Not verifying applicants’ foreign experience creates an inconsistency in your hiring process and may lead to claims of discriminatory hiring practices. For example, if you solely run a domestic background check on two applicants for the same position and one of them claims to have a degree from a foreign institution, you will end up checking the educational claim of only one of the candidates. “You could potentially be exposing yourself to unnecessary and expensive litigation regarding this inconsistent process,” said Shoemaker.
Protecting against negligent hiring claims. Negligent-hiring claims can arise when a worker causes harm to another individual and the employer cannot demonstrate that it exercised due diligence when evaluating that worker’s fitness for the job.
According to Rosen, companies should, at a minimum, consider screening international candidates for criminal records, employment records and educational records.
Stay Within Legal Guidelines
The legal implications of international background screening involve the intersection of U.S. and foreign laws and can be extraordinarily complex. It is important to understand the laws that apply in both the U.S. and the relevant foreign country.
The obligations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) still apply for international screening. If the task of international screening is outsourced, the screening firm has an FCRA obligation to take reasonable procedures to ensure accuracy, said Rosen. If there is a negative public record, such as a criminal-record “hit,” then the firm must make sure the information is correct and up-to-date and supplied in a way that does not violate any data- or privacy-protection rules.
Rosen pointed out that when obtaining information from an applicant about past employment or education abroad, it is important not to refer to the country as the candidate’s country of origin. “That would likely be a form of discrimination, since such a statement can imply that the employer is considering ethnicity or country of origin as a factor of employment.” He advises organizations to refer to any screening outside of the U.S. as international screening.
It’s also important to know and understand the country’s data-privacy regulations, because the background-screening process involves collecting and transferring personally identifiable data.
“The essential rule for any employer in the U.S. is that information should be obtained in a manner consistent with the laws of the country where the data originated,” said Rosen. For example, if it’s not legal in a particular country to obtain a criminal record from the police, then a U.S. employer should not do so, either, he explained.
Cisco’s Global Challenge: a Case Study
U.S. multinational computer network provider Cisco Systems employs about 22,000 people outside the U.S. and Canada. The company decided to develop an international background-screening capability as a component of a global hiring strategy back in 2002.
“The challenge was clear, since the company intended to hire in upward of 90 countries worldwide and wanted to apply its background-screening program consistently and equably through all of those countries,” said Cathy Breslin, senior manager of global human resources and recruiting at Cisco.
First, the company worked closely with its screening provider to identify the legal, social and cultural screening requirements and prohibitions in 93 countries across Asia, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. “The regulations and expectations are vastly different from one location to another,” said Breslin. “In some countries it’s not legal to run a criminal check, and we have to search public information for evidence of criminal activity. Some cultures consider it disrespectful to check a person’s past employment. We wanted to be fully informed and sensitive to each country’s rules while trying to apply our screening program without bias.”
According to Breslin, the Cisco global background-screening program is a great success.
She offered this advice to companies just beginning an international background-screening program:
- Start in the countries where the company expects to do the most hiring. Get that portion up and running effectively, and then phase in other regions.
- Be persistent in researching the legal, social and cultural differences of each area.
- Teach recruiters to set expectations for their candidates based on the requirements and turnaround time for each region.
- Don’t forget that hiring is personal—assist the applicants through the process.
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him at @SHRMRoy
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