How Immigration Background Checks Work

By Katherine at Legal Language
Posted on 01/07/2011
In Adjusting Status, Immigration

immigration background checksBackground checks have long been a part of the immigration process. But since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the US — as well as countries all over the world — has paid more attention to people crossing the borders.

A background check is an important part of the immigration process that every potential US immigrant must go through. Immigration background checks are performed on every applicant, regardless of ethnicity, national origin or religion.

Immigration Background Checks: Process

Immigration background checks are comprised of three parts:

  • Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS) name check
  • FBI fingerprint check
  • FBI name check

All potential US immigrants must pass these three tests to secure a visa interview.

The IBIS screening is a check run by immigration officials at a port of entry. IBIS name checks utilize a centralized system and quickly produce findings. US Customs and Border Protection knows instantly whether or not additional system searches are required for the immigration applicant.

Fingerprints are obtained by USCIS at a biometrics appointment. FBI fingerprint checks are then performed by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) located in West Virginia. Fingerprint checks generally take between 24 and 48 hours. If an applicant’s fingerprints are associated with a criminal record, the immigration application is almost always denied.

The FBI name check should only take up to two weeks, but current backlogs have resulted in some cases pending for over a year. FBI name checks are conducted by the National Name Check Program in Washington DC. The potential immigrant’s name is checked against several databases of known criminals and suspects.

If none of these background checks produce a positive result for criminal activity, interviews for visas are scheduled.

This three-part immigration background check procedure is for United States immigration applicants. Several other countries — such as Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom — have similar procedures in place with their respective immigration agencies.

Consider Getting Your Own Preliminary Background Check

If you have had previous dealings with the police, a preliminary criminal background check will give you reassurance.

There are always people with small offenses on their record who are otherwise qualified to immigrate to the US. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services won’t automatically deny your application if there is a small crime that you have paid for, either with fines, jail time, court-mandated classes or some combination of those — especially if your offense was many years ago and you have had a clean record since then.

If you aren’t sure if your record has been expunged, or if you have any other concerns, you may opt to run a background check on yourself. Contacting a private investigator is the best way to obtain a background check.

When to Contact an Immigration Attorney

Immigration attorneys can help if something does appear on your record and you aren’t sure how to proceed. Experienced immigration lawyers will know exactly how to handle minor offenses as well as how to deal with larger and more problematic crimes.

Sometimes there are errors in background checks, such as offenses that were supposed to be expunged. Take steps to remove inaccurate information in your background check before filing immigration paperwork with USCIS.

31 Responses to “How Immigration Background Checks Work”

  1. Frances Fikri Says:

    My husband already had his interview for his visa (8 months ago) but he was told during his interview they had further questions and would contact him and me for further information. We’ve been waiting. Today I was told by my Senator’s secretary that my husband’s “petition is pending background checks”. Does this sound normal? Background checks after the interview? I feel like I’m getting the runaround.

    Thanks so much

  2. Kaytie at Legal Language Says:

    Hello Frances,
    Thanks for your question! Since every individual case differs, Legal Language cannot give advice online. The best thing to do in your situation would be to discuss this with someone who knows the specific details of your case, such as USCIS or an immigration attorney.

    Good Luck!
    Kaytie at Legal Language

  3. morgan kaskas Says:

    i had an offence n canada when an undercover police woman on my building coaced me into buying for her marrijuana from a deal i knew on my building. i went to court and th judge as me to be of good behaviour for a year this was five years ago. will this afect my application?

  4. Kaytie at Legal Language Says:

    Hi Morgan,
    Because every case differs, Legal Language cannot offer immigration advice online. Your best course of action would be to discuss this with an immigration attorney.

    Good Luck!
    Kaytie at Legal Language

  5. John Says:

    Is drinking and driving and offense which may prevent me from entering the US?

  6. Kaytie at Legal Language Says:

    Hi John,

    Excellent question. However, Legal Language can only offer general information, not legal advice. For specifics, you should talk with an immigration attorney.

    Kaytie at Legal Language

  7. Sandy Says:

    I have my biometrics appointment today at 3pm and just found out i have a warrant for my arrest for child support , will i be detained at my appointment since i plan to turn my self in after my biometrics so i wont miss the appointment , please help

  8. babak Says:

    Honorable and dear friends,
    I apologize and sorry to send this comment.
    My DV-2013 interview date was 04/03/2013 in YEREVAN.
    During my interview, the honorable and dear officer has told me that my documents are complete and just need to wait 6 weeks for further processing.
    But after 6 weeks my case is not cleared yet.
    Would you please answer my questions?
    1- Do you think there is a problem in the process of reviewing my case?
    2- should i provide you with further information in order to facilitate my processing?
    with best regards, thank you and have a nice time.

  9. Kaytie at Legal Language Says:

    Hello Babak,

    Unfortunately we cannot help you determine what the status of your case is–you should contact the office which conducted your interview and ask about your case’s status.

    Good luck,

    Kaytie at Legal Language

  10. babak Says:

    thank you and have so much nice time
    see you in USA

  11. sha Says:

    Is credit checks done for US visa applications?

  12. Elizabeth Says:

    A credit check is not performed by the USCIS as part of the green card application process.

    Thanks for reading!

    Elizabeth at Legal Language

  13. Bee Says:

    do the immigration checks involve checks with the UK and European borders agencies?

  14. Nory Says:

    My husband is from canada though he has lived here for 6+ years and this year he hired an immigration attorney to get his dual citizenship which was easier for him to get because his father was born in NY and is an American citizen. We are now awaiting for an interview. Do you know how long it takes to receive an interview from when you turn in your documents or does it just vary? Also we are moving soon to apartments and I believe I read that they will run a background check on all tenants, will that be possible for him with his status? Thank you for your time and if you are able to answer these questions.

  15. SofiaZ Says:

    I got a letter stating my case i 130 has been transfer to CSC. Is that bad news?

  16. Mei Says:

    A friend of mine is applying for a citizenship. He has been in the USA for more than 10 years and has got his green card for 5 years. He applied for the citizenship and was asked to provide the fingerprint in the past February. He has never been arrested nor has criminal record and answered “no” to all the questions about criminal history in the N-400 form. Currently he is waiting for the interview letter. However, last week he was arrested by the NYPD because he was engaged in a fight to defend himself from an aggressive tenant. Both him and the tenant called 911. When the police came, they arrested both of them. In court, the judge gave him an order protection against the other guy and requested him to be in court again in April. So right now he is concerning whether this will affect his application for citizenship. Is there anything he should do while waiting for the interview and the court appointments. Also, if he gets an interview appointment, should he tell the interviewer about the arrest or not?
    Hope my long story does not confuse you. Your answer is highly appreciated.

  17. Naim Abus Says:

    Does the immigration check the status of the applicant in his country?

  18. june Says:

    hi how long does immigration take for background check?? 3 months or 2 or???

  19. Amsan Says:

    I’m applying for Q visa and my agency said that the petition is already filed in USCIS. I just wanted to know how long the process will take and is the background check is already on going? or they will do the background check after the petition got approved? Thank you!

  20. mark granger Says:

    If someone was 15 and apprehended at the border finger printed and released will that show up on the FBI background check or is that the ibis name check . if it doesn’t show on FBI background check is it safe to assume records show nothing thanks

  21. Kareema mohsin Says:

    I applied for citizenship on Jan/29/2014 ,done my fingerprint ,send me a letter for my inter view on May /05/2014 .One day before the decdual my inter view test .l called the free 1-800 and made infopass finally they told me my case was pending .How long l have to wait .please l need som answer . Thank you

  22. Patrick Says:

    Hi, I was refused a visa to the states as I violated my previous visa, long storey short, I worked for two weeks in order to earn money to get home as I had my possessions stolen. I am traveling to New Zealand and aware that I have to have my finger prints taken, my question is that will this information be shared instantly with New Zealand imigration authorities.

  23. Alex Says:

    I had a i130 application approved 5 years ago but due that we didn’t want to be stock in Mexico for an unknown time we didn’t proceed with the consulate process. My question do you if we need to start all over or can we resubmitted the application to the visa center?

  24. Kiflit Says:

    I am from the African country Eritrea and now I am in Israel country
    I leave Eritrea by 04/02/2006 I was in Sudan fore more the one and half a year life is not good I try to came to Israel the life niched mean no democracy no good life no education no pease they hate black people so what can I do where I can go now please I ma waiting your help please help me by the phone number below 00972545644525 thanks for your reading

  25. Pre-Immigration Background Checks - Reliance Services LLC Says:

    […] This article is a reprint of an article By Katherine at Legal Language Services […]

  26. Sam Says:

    I am petitioning for my wife for a green card. However I have a criminal record outside of USA. Will that affect our petition?

  27. Mack Says:

    If you have an outstanding warrant from Australia and are getting a work visa for the US, will the warrant flag up at American immigration if I don’t declare it?

  28. ahmad Says:

    my wife won DV lottery 2014 and got visa for her and 3 kids. but I myself am not cleared after ten months. what could be the problem
    ahmad ,Iran

  29. George Says:

    Me and my wife got married back in 2013. Then she went back to US and applied for me I-130. My case is overly delayed. I had a close connection with Fbi for mafia case and now i think due to investigations they are holding up my case. I didn’t commit any crime i just reported some info to Fbi and dealt with them for a year while being in US, would it affect my case? What should i do?

  30. nancy sharp Says:

    If the criminal history involves alleged sexual misconduct (sometimes even when no conviction occurred) (google “Walsh Waiver”), the Vermont Service Center will tell you forever that they are doing background checks. Their M.O. is to keep you dangling until you die or give up.

  31. Alonzo Says:

    When i was young like 23yo i was charged with a felony and found guilty in the United states. Served my time and deported back to my country. Although till today i still don’t know how i got myself to that point in my life. Now i want to further my education. I applied to a school in Canada and was granted admission. Now i want apply for a student visa to canada. Will my records show up when i go for biometric for visa ? Pls i would like anyone that is informed about this process to advise. Should i not bother trying ?

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