Article

How To Do International Background Checks

According to research published in People Management Magazine, around 78% of UK employers carry out background checks on domestic staff. Even though most employers are engaging in pre-employment screening, a significant minority are not. This has to be worrying, because in a typical UK SME of say 50 people, 10 employees may not have been background checked, yet it only takes 1 bad hire to have a seriously negative impact on a business. It’s not an acceptable risk.  

Candidate reference checking standards plummet unacceptably lower when we consider foreign workers, where just 60% of UK employers are screening international hires. Given the fact that foreign workers operate with the same work-place freedoms as domestic workers, it’s confounding that they don’t receive the same pre-employment scrutiny.

Why aren’t employers doing international background checks?

As some of you may be aware from experience, employers face unique challenges when conducting international background checks on foreign workers employed in the UK. Complicating factors include things such as language barriers, international data protection laws, and other international regulations. Small companies, often with added pressure to hire fast, (while being constrained by limited HR resources), can understandably be overwhelmed by an intricate international background checking process. Since,  there are no general laws around reference checking education or experience, (as there are with right-to-work checks),  and coupled to it being an awkward task to do across international borders, it’s not hard to see why many employers are neglecting international background checks.

First steps: global pre-employment screening policy

Given that 10% of the UK workforce, (that’s about 3,000,000 people) are foreign workers, it makes operational sense for employers to develop a global, pre-employment screening policy. It should detail out items such as:

  • the number of and nature of employment references required, 
  • proof of certification and education, 
  • right-to-work check procedures, 
  • and which roles will require additional criminal records checks
  • advice and procedures on how to carry out these checks from scratch.

The policy should also create awareness of potential time delays for international background checks. and this should be factored into planning processes. For example, while doing a DBS (Criminal Background Check) is relatively straightforward in the UK, doing this internationally can seem a daunting task. Thankfully, the government has provided a great resource to help in the form of their online resource for Employers, titled ‘Criminal records checks for overseas applicants’.

It explains:

  • who can apply, 
  • how to apply, 
  • what documents are needed and the 
  • fees required per country 
  • contact details for criminal records checks overseas. 

In some cases, the DBS check is performed by the foreign worker’s Embassy in London, which simplifies the process from the employer side. What is also encouraging to discover in the background checking guide is that the reported turnaround times for checks in each country seem pretty quick.  A cursory glance reveals that some countries offer international background check turnaround times of 24-72 hours. It’s worth noting that not all background checks will be returned in English, with some being returned in the overseas candidate’s native tongue, so employers will need to foot the cost of a translation service and this will of course increase the overall time to complete the background check.

Verifying International Qualifications and Experience

The process of checking education and previous employment of foreign workers should be no different to the background check UK process, although it is likely to take longer as you may have to negotiate language barriers, cross-border information protocols, and differences in cultural expectations around references. 

Lean on the candidate as much as you feel is appropriate for help establishing and chasing contacts, just like in the UK.  You may need to engage a translation service if you can’t understand the reference.

The risks of failing to do pre-employment screening, (be that for domestic or foreign candidates), are obvious and it is vital that employers make candidate referencing a priority. A good starting point is to establish a clear reference checking policy (talking into account both domestic and foreign workers), that sets out your organization’s background checking processes and procedures, and supporting information resources.