How Immigration Background Checks Work
Background 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.