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Global Watchlist Search: A Complete Guide for Employers [2023]

global watchlist search

In today’s increasingly interconnected world, employers should include a global watchlist search as a critical part of their employment screening process.

Global watchlist background checks identify whether individuals have engaged in serious crimes, have been sanctioned, or could threaten national security, workplace safety, and jeopardize a company’s reputation.

This article outlines important information about global watchlist searches that all employers should know.

What is a Global Watchlist Search?

A global watchlist check searches database sources from around the globe, including domestic and international government agencies, sanctions lists, and law enforcement agencies to identify those who are suspected of or known to have committed several dangerous offenses, including:

  • Terrorism or suspected terrorism
  • Debarments and exclusions
  • Narcotics trafficking
  • Major international crimes
  • Major fraud
  • Significant financial crimes
  • Disciplinary actions and sanctions

These types of searches also reveal exclusions, sanctions, debarments, malpractice, and other disciplinary actions that regulatory bodies from around the world have taken against individuals and reveal those who are prohibited from working in certain industries such as finance or healthcare.

Failing to perform watchlist searches could expose a company to substantial civil penalties, liability, and risks of loss and reputational harm.

What Databases Are Included in a Global Watchlist Check?

A global watchlist check might include searches of the following databases:

1. Monitored Lists

People who have committed dangerous crimes such as terrorist acts, mass murders, or serious fraud crimes, are placed on lists monitored by national or international law enforcement agencies, including:

2. Adverse Media or Politically Exposed Persons (PEP) Lists

Those who appear on politically exposed persons or adverse media lists haven’t necessarily committed any crimes, but they might be more susceptible to bribery or extortion attempts or place an organization’s reputation at risk.

3. Sanctions Lists

Sanctions lists include individuals who have been subject to domestic or international sanctions and who might be debarred or excluded from working in certain industries or from employment by any U.S. employer.

Some sanctions list databases in a global watchlist check might include:

Who Should Conduct a Global Watchlist Search?

Employers in the following industries should conduct global watchlist searches to make informed hiring decisions:

1. Employers in the Public Sector

Public sector employers such as government agencies, K-12 schools, colleges, universities, and others should conduct global watchlist searches as part of a comprehensive pre-employment background check.

A global watchlist search can reveal if an applicant has been sanctioned, disciplined, barred from federal contracts, engaged in major crimes or terrorism, or could pose reputational risks for an organization.

2. Multinational Corporations

Large corporations with sites in multiple countries should conduct global watchlist checks on all applicants.

Doing so can help companies ensure they avoid hiring foreign nationals who have engaged in acts of terrorism, are barred from working within certain industries, pose threats to national security, or have worked on behalf of target nations.

3. Businesses Handling or Owning Sensitive Information

Organizations that handle sensitive information or have trade secrets that need protection should conduct global watchlist checks on all prospective candidates that could have access to sensitive data.

Hiring an applicant that could threaten the sensitive information of your customers or your business might significantly endanger your organization.

4. Employers in the Financial Sector

Some individuals might appear on global watchlists and be barred from working in the financial industry because of sanctions or major crimes involving fraud schemes, securities and investment fraud, and other issues.

Hiring someone who has been excluded from working in the financial sector could subject your company to significant penalties and also place your company at risk for fraud and embezzlement.

5. Employers in the Technology Sector

Companies in the technology sector are frequently targeted by cybercriminals and other bad actors, including those working for targeted countries to try to steal sensitive information and trade secrets.

Global watchlist searches can help to screen out individuals who have worked for target nations or otherwise pose serious risks of harm to technology employers.

6. Employers in the Healthcare Sector

Many hospitals and other healthcare employers rely on foreign nationals to supplement their U.S. workforces because of shortages of doctors, nurses, and other professionals in certain areas.

Performing global watchlist searches can identify individuals who have had disciplinary actions against their licenses, have been sanctioned, or have been excluded from working in the healthcare industry.

7. Employers in the Aviation Sector

Airlines, airports, and other aviation employers must perform stringent background checks, including global watchlist searches, to protect public safety.

Global watchlist checks identify individuals who are known or suspected terrorists and others who could pose threats to the safety of people in airports and on flights.

How to Search a Global Watchlist

Employers can search global watchlists in one of two ways, including performing the checks themselves or partnering with a trusted third-party screening service.

Let’s take a look at both methods and the pros and cons of each:

1. Do-it-Yourself Screens

Some employers might choose to check various global watchlists themselves to see whether an applicant appears on any of them.


  • Free access to many of the lists


  • Difficulty accessing and navigating watchlist websites
  • Large number of lists could cause employers to overlook important ones
  • Potential of misidentification of an applicant because of name similarities
  • Could cost substantial sums in terms of time and labor costs
  • Risk of negligent hiring liability and penalties if a listing is missed

2. Partnering with a Background Screening Service

The best way to conduct global watchlist searches is to partner with a trusted and reliable background screening provider like iprospectcheck.

When iprospectcheck conducts global watchlist background checks, we first verify an individual’s identity by checking multiple independent, reliable sources.

Then, we search the individual’s verified identity across a comprehensive set of watchlist sources.

If an individual’s profile is included on a list, an alert will appear. We’ll then review the alert and determine the type of list and the reason for the listing.


  • Affordable pricing
  • Compliant with the FCRA, the Patriot Act, and regulatory requirements
  • Advanced research capabilities and access to numerous reliable global databases
  • Deep bench of experience in performing global watchlist checks and other background screens
  • Receive up-to-date, accurate, and comprehensive reports
  • Get assistance with maintaining compliance


  • Not free, but affordable

Important Laws for Global Watchlists Checks

Federal Laws

U.S. Patriot Act

The Patriot Act was passed by Congress in response to the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

This law is meant to combat the financing of terrorism and money laundering. It also requires employers in certain industries to conduct global watchlist screenings and domestic watchlist checks.

All U.S. organizations are responsible to ensure they avoid engaging in business with listed individuals or entities that appear on the Department of the Treasury’s OFAC-SDN list under the Patriot Act.

Specific industries, including those involved in travel, import/export, and financial services have more stringent requirements.

Fair Credit Reporting Act

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) applies to employer background checks conducted by third-party screening providers called consumer reporting agencies (CRAs).

This law includes a seven-year restriction on reporting the following information when it is seven or more years old:

  • Arrests that didn’t end in convictions
  • Civil judgments
  • Civil lawsuits
  • Paid tax liens
  • Chapter 13 bankruptcies (10 years for Chapter 7 bankruptcies)

The reporting limitations don’t apply to positions with annual salaries of at least $75,000.

The FCRA also includes some requirements for employers that intend to conduct background checks.

Before an employer can conduct a background check, they must first notify the applicant and obtain their written consent.

The notification must be in writing and provided in a standalone form.

When an employer learns an applicant has derogatory information on their background report, the employer must complete the adverse action steps before deciding not to hire them.

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed and enacted to protect the civil liberties of minorities.

Title VII of this law prohibits discrimination in the workplace against employees and applicants who are members of protected groups.

This law applies to background checks when employers learn about an applicant’s criminal record.

According to guidance released by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers should assess convictions individually as they relate to the job before deciding against hiring them based on their criminal records.

Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act

The Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act applies to federal contractors and agencies.

This law prohibits employers from asking about criminal history information until after they have extended contingent employment offers.

Federal agencies can’t contract with prospective contractors that inquire about criminal record information before extending conditional employment offers.

State Laws

States have many different employment background check laws.

To ensure your organization maintains compliance, you should check with your legal counsel about the laws that apply in your jurisdiction.

7 Best Practices for Maintaining Compliance

1. Notify and Obtain Written Consent

Notify applicants that you perform background checks, including global watchlist searches, on a written disclosure.

Obtain their signed consent before conducting background checks.

2. Verify Your Applicant’s Identity Information

Verify your applicant’s identity information before conducting a global watchlist check.

3. Validate any Alert on a Watchlist Search

If you receive an alert on a global watchlist search for an applicant’s profile, conduct additional searches to validate the information.

4. Individually Assess Criminal Records

If an applicant has a criminal conviction that doesn’t bar them from employment, individually assess it as it relates to the open position and the safety of your organization.

5. Send the Applicant a Pre-Adverse Action Letter

If you intend to turn down an applicant for employment based on information in a background check, send them a pre-adverse action letter.

Identify the negative information and include a copy of the report.

6. Give the Applicant Time to Provide Mitigating Information or Evidence the Record is Incorrect

Provide the candidate a reasonable amount of time (a best practice is 5 days) to present evidence that the record is inaccurate or that they have been rehabilitated.

7. Send the Applicant a Final Adverse Action Letter

If you decide to deny employment based on the negative information from a background check, send a final adverse action letter to the applicant.

Include copies of their rights under the FCRA and other laws.


1. How frequently are global watchlists updated?

Global watchlists are continuously updated.

This makes it important to have ongoing monitoring of watchlists to ensure your organization remains compliant and safe.

2. What other types of background checks should employers conduct?

To obtain a comprehensive picture of your applicants, you should consider conducting these additional background searches:

3. What is the difference between a global watchlist search and a government watchlist search?

A global watchlist search checks watchlists maintained by government agencies, regulatory bodies, and law enforcement agencies around the world.

A government watchlist search checks domestic watchlists but doesn’t include searches of watchlists in other countries or maintained by international bodies.

iprospectcheck: Your Partner for Fast, Accurate Global Watchlist Searches

Global watchlist searches help employers protect the safety of their organizations, employees, and the public.

Failing to perform these checks could expose employers to significant penalties and potential liability.

At iprospectcheck, we can quickly perform government watchlist checks to help our clients maintain regulatory compliance and protect the safety of their workplaces.

To learn about the employment background screening services offered by iprospectcheck, call us for a free consultation: (888) 509-1979

DISCLAIMER: The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Consult your counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

Know Before You Hire

About the Author
Matthew J. Rodgers

Matthew J. Rodgers

Matthew J. Rodgers is a highly accomplished business executive with over 30 years of experience providing strategic vision and leadership to companies ranging from the fortune 500 to iprospectcheck, a company which he co-founded over a decade ago. Matthew is a valued consultant who is dedicated to helping companies create and implement efficient, cost effective and compliant employment screening programs. Matt has been a member of the Professional Background Screeners Association since 2009 . When not focused on iprospectcheck, he can be found spending time with his family, fly fishing, or occasionally running the wild rivers of the American west. A lifetime member of American Whitewater, Matt is passionate about protecting and restoring America’s whitewater rivers.