The Shift in U.S. Immigration and What It Could Mean for Your Background Check Program

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During this presidential election cycle, immigration is – or perhaps “remains” is a better term – one of the foremost and most controversial topics.

With immigration discussions in the United States, many believe the country that is the source of most new immigrants is Mexico. Yet, in spite of this popular misconception, most new immigrants to the United States do not come from Mexico. This shift could have an impact on many background screening programs that don’t reach as far as current hiring trends suggests is necessary.


Most newly-arrived immigrants arriving from countries other than Mexico

According to an analysis of census data, a country other than Mexico is the source of newly-arrived immigrants in 37 states within the United States. In fact, since 2005 there has been a rapid and dramatic shift away from Mexico as the country producing the most immigrants to the U.S.

Ten years ago, the story was different. In 33 states, Mexico was the most common source of new immigrants (those in the U.S. for a year or less). The rich job market for unskilled labor and economic conditions in Mexico attracted vast immigration from south of the border. But the downturn in home construction (a major source of employment for immigrant workers), stricter immigration enforcement, an improved job market in Mexico, the Great Recession in the United States, and a simultaneous accelerated demand for employees with technical, medical and scientific skills changed that tide quickly.

The result has been a dramatic slowing of immigration from Mexico, as the pace of immigration from India, China and other nations has significantly ramped up. In 2014, close to 428,000 new immigrants arrived from India and China, more than twice the number from 2005; while new immigrants from Mexico dropped by two-thirds.


The role of Visas

Visas for high-skilled labor play an important role in this shift. In 2014, more than 160,000 annual H-1B visas for high-skilled workers were held by immigrants from India. Chinese immigrants held 87 percent of about 8,800 EB-5 visas for investors who create jobs. And of the 150,000 L-1 visas for managers or skilled employees transferred by their employer from overseas to U.S. offices, about a third went to personnel from India and China.


Possible Effects on Background Check Programs

The U.S. remains the premier destination for immigrants from throughout the world. Since the country’s inception, new arrivals to our shores have brought rich, diverse talents and skills along with a drive to succeed, and continue to add to the fabric of American culture. But companies across the land recognize now more than ever the need to carefully screen new candidates from foreign shores, and are seeking background check processes that extend to Europe, Asia and beyond. For both U.S.-only businesses as well as organizations with both domestic locations and foreign presence, the inability to effectively verify records, or search for criminal records outside the U.S., without the assistance of highly-qualified experts in the field – may result in a bad candidate experience, hurt the company’s ability to recruit, limit talent, and increase risk.


It’s a Wide, Wide World – The Case for Experienced Global Screening Services

More and more companies are logically turning to global screening programs, but it’s important that they be deliberate when choosing a background check solution that offers such extended resources. The playing field is not level and there are numerous elements that should be considered.

Beyond the obvious requirement to select a background check firm that has local reach in multiple countries; top-tier background check services may offer personnel who speak the local language. That’s not as much a “given” as one might assume. A native speaker can quicken the process as well as help to avoid perilous miscommunications due to linguistic variations. Just as in the English language, there are nuances in most languages that may come to bear when conducting a background check. For example, “turnover” in American business may be understood as the rate employees are replaced; in France, the same word may be used in the context of the amount of money a business makes. A native-speaker can distinguish between nuances and have make better sense of the vernacular, local idioms and figures of speech.

One may also want to take into account that countries may have multiple languages and dialects spoken within their borders. In China, dialects of the Chinese language include not only Mandarin but also Wu, Gan, Xiang, Min, Hakka, Jin, Huizhou, Pingua, and Yue. India officially recognizes 23 different languages. Consider the linguistic obstacles that may be encountered when verifying the background of an individual who attended and worked in two or more regions of India where different languages are spoken.

Finally, remember that a background check verified overseas may add time to the candidacy process. Hiring Managers as well as candidates should be apprised that verifications in countries outside of the U.S. may take longer for reasons including the operational challenges of soliciting data from the various in-country sources, and the fact that some countries may not place as much importance on these verifications or the need to respond at the same pace as the United States. Being aware in advance of such realities can save companies a great deal of aggravation.

And the same goes for their candidates; the last thing a company spending copious amounts of time and money seeking to attract highly-specialized personnel wants to do is alienate candidates because they didn’t keep the candidate informed of their background check status, particularly if a background check may take additional time. It may behoove organizations to provide information such as authoritative FAQs and videos that explain the background check process, how to best prepare, and help increase the comfort level for those candidates who have background history or previous employment or education from overseas.



The shift in immigration patterns coupled with changing demands for candidates with specific skills which may draw qualified applicants from outside of the U.S. offers American businesses a new and serious consideration in running their background check program. The flow of immigrants seeking U.S. jobs is expected to continue: mobility levels are predicted to grow by 50% by 2020.  Applying best practices – such as those highlighted above – when initiating, extending or revamping an organization’s screening process may help provide better hires.

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Lewis Lustman

Lewis Lustman is a content marketer who enjoys developing materials that engage, inform, challenge, and hopefully entertain my audience. Lewis is a former journalist for Los Angeles Magazine and the Los Angeles Times, and has worked for a number of leading advertising, marketing, technology, and PR firms over the years. Interested in a topic that he hasn't yet tackled? Drop him a line in the comments section!

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