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How Long Does a Criminal Background Check Take?

Michelle Wilson - February 2, 2022

How Long Does a Criminal Background Check Take?

There are many different background check options, with varying turnaround times for every screening. The timelines depend on the type of information requested, various data sources, and the legal requirements for each screening. If you’re looking for information about the turnaround time for different criminal background checks, here’s everything you need to know.

Understanding the Turnaround Times for Employment Background Checks

The most common type of background screening, the employment check, is a standard part of the job application process. Studies show nearly 95% of all employers require a background check to work within the company, with many companies requiring ongoing screening. These screens may include drug testing or updated criminal status. Regular background checks ensure a safe working environment and reduce company liability overall.

A background check timeline depends on the type of information requested by the employer. The report may be ready instantaneously, or the report could take longer than five days. Specific searches or verifications likely require manual proof, significantly delaying the results. These include post-secondary verification, license certifications, past employment, or references. Information disclosed in an employment check can vary significantly. But may include criminal screening, drug testing, driving records, education, credit history, and previous work history.

What Turnaround Time Should I Expect?

The criminal background check often takes between one to three business days, but the records may take longer depending on national database referencing. Occasionally, your background check results may arrive sooner than this timeline or longer than this timeframe, depending on the database being searched.

Instant Background Checks

Instant background checks include the basic searchable information online, found through specialized databases. They often have items like a Social Security Number (SSN) trace, sex offender registry search, and a national criminal database search. Almost all of these results are instantaneous, giving a near-instant search result.

Explaining the Turnaround Times for Federal Background Checks

Your criminal background check will likely include the county criminal court records, sex offender registries, terrorist watch lists, and state and federal criminal records. These searches often require additional time to complete, taking between one to three days to finish the manual search.

The federal background check takes one business day to complete. These background checks search across the 94 U.S. federal courts. Scans will check for federal violations, including tax evasion, identity theft, interstate trafficking, embezzlement, and crimes committed on federal property.

Federal Background Check Limitations

 The federal check only includes crimes prosecuted on a federal level, meaning it fails to include any criminal records at the state level. As such, many employers will request both federal and state criminal records to get a comprehensive understanding of the applicant’s criminal record.

Explaining the Turnaround Times for Gun Background Checks

The universal background check (also called gun background checks) are run through the FBI. They are typically processed within two to three minutes using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The law mandates these checks for anyone wanting to purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer, importer, or manufacturer. Before finalizing a gun sale, sellers will contact the local state agency or the FBI to perform the background check.

In the event of a delay during the point of sale, an individual must wait three business days before completing the purchase. Should the FBI deny your application, an individual may request an appeal with the FBI.

Explaining the Turnaround Time for Fingerprint Background Checks

The fingerprint background check submits your fingerprints to the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), comparing your digits against more than 35 million Americans managed by the FBI. The FBI will return your response within three business days if the company finds a match.

Fingerprint background checks typically coincide with other screening, most often with employment screening. It’s required for government-run institutions like fire departments, hospitals, and public schools, although other employers may require fingerprint background checks too. These companies include those working with vulnerable people, the elderly, and minors.

The Results of Your Fingerprints

If your prints are of poor quality, the processing times may be longer (or you may have to resubmit them). Applicants with criminal history will also have a longer processing time. The company will submit your prints to IAFIS during the application. The background check will return with no results if you’ve never been fingerprinted.

Why is my Application Delayed?

When an application takes longer than five business days, there are a few reasons for the delay. The most common cause is an inaccurate or incomplete application. Alternatively, an employer may not have the necessary authorization or release forms to complete the screening. These forms are required by federal law, prohibiting agencies from starting the application without written consent.

Manual Verification Required

Anyone requiring a background check with country court records may notice a delay in their results. Most county court records are not fully digital, requiring manual verification by the court runner or county clerk. It may take between three and thirty days to receive the manual verification.

Outside Residence

Individuals that have lived in another country within the last ten years may require an international background check. Depending on the country, international verifications often take four to five days to finalize. Those areas with extensive privacy protection laws will see an additional delay (up to twenty days).

Different Aliases or Name Variation

Confirming your identity isn’t always clear-cut, mainly if there are multiple variations in the spelling of your name. In these situations, the background check company requires a manual check. Anyone with different name variances or a common name will occasionally require a manual verification before processing the results.

Extensive Search Areas

Different checks will require different investigation levels, making it a complex process to estimate time. An employer may require several sources and databases, such as previous employers or schools. In these situations, it may take longer to process the background check.

Receiving Your Response from an Employer

Although the background check may take up to five days to finalize, an employer may not follow up immediately after receiving the report. They may be running multiple applications at the same time or want to review the report thoroughly before proceeding. If it’s been longer than a week, an applicant may follow up with the recruiter to confirm the background check status.

Should an employer find something disqualifying on your background check, they are required to let you know before deciding not to hire you. Additionally, employers must send a copy of the background check and a copy of “A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.”

Conclusion

Most background checks will return within the standard turnaround time; there are situations where delays can occur. If you feel like your background check is taking longer than expected, reach out to the hiring manager or recruiter. The company may require additional information to complete your application. Either way, you’ll better understand where in the background check process you are.  

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