I-2-1-70.Foreign Language Interpreters

Last Update: 6/25/20 (Transmittal I-2-236)

A. Identifying When a Claimant Needs an Interpreter

When a claimant has limited proficiency in English, an administrative law judge (ALJ) will request that hearing office (HO) staff arrange for a qualified interpreter to assist the claimant and the ALJ at the hearing. See Hearings, Appeals and Litigation Law (HALLEX) manual I-2-6-10. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will provide an interpreter free of charge when a claimant requests an interpreter, or when an interpreter is needed to ensure that a claimant is not disadvantaged.

An ALJ will not test the claimant's English fluency to determine whether an interpreter is needed at the hearing, or decline to obtain an interpreter based on the ALJ's ability or inability to understand when a claimant with limited English proficiency speaks English.

While not exhaustive, any of the following may indicate the need for an interpreter at the hearing:

  • The claimant notes on the request for hearing that a foreign language interpreter is needed;

  • The claimant's appointed representative reports that the claimant has limited proficiency in English;

  • The field office indicates the need for a foreign language interpreter (noted in either eView or the Case Processing and Management System);

  • The claimant indicates on form SSA-3368 (Disability Report-Adult) or SSA-3820 (Disability Report-Child) that his or her ability to speak and understand English is limited;

  • The record or queries include reports of contact or other statements that suggest the claimant may need an interpreter; or

  • If it becomes clear to the ALJ or HO staff that a claimant or witness has difficulty understanding or communicating in English and such difficulty will affect the ALJ's ability to inquire fully into the issues at the hearing.

NOTE:

SSA will not provide interpreters for appointed representatives, contractors, or vendors. However, an interpreter must translate for the claimant all statements or testimony by such persons during a hearing for a claimant with limited English proficiency.

B. Criteria for a Qualified Foreign Language Interpreter

A qualified foreign language interpreter is an individual or vendor who:

  • Reads and demonstrates fluency in the English language;

  • Reads and demonstrates fluency in a specified foreign language;

  • Demonstrates familiarity with basic SSA terminology;

  • Agrees to comply with SSA's disclosure and confidentiality of information requirements;

  • Has no personal stake in the outcome of the case or other association with the case that would create a conflict of interest; and

  • Agrees to interpret the proceedings accurately and completely, including all questions and responses, and agrees not to assume or infer facts or dates, nor to change the original meaning of any questions or answers.

NOTE:

A person under age 18 may not serve as a qualified interpreter.

C. Obtaining a Qualified Foreign Language Interpreter

1. In-Person Interpreter Services

HO staff must utilize the micro-purchasing procedures for obtaining in-person language interpreter services, as directed by the Office of Acquisitions and Grants. HO staff must ensure that any foreign language interpreter hired under the micro-purchasing procedures meets the criteria set forth by the Office of Acquisitions and Grants. The ALJ will certify in-person interpreters on the record, either during the hearing or in writing. See HALLEX I-2-6-10.

HO staff procures, schedules, and documents the in-person interpreter services, and the assigned ALJ certifies that the interpreter rendered the services.

NOTE 1:

An ALJ may use in-person interpreters for any hearing, regardless of the method of appearance for the claimant (e.g., in-person, telephone, or video teleconference (VTC)). For VTC hearings, the interpreter may be present at the remote site, the ALJ site, or another agency site. However, an agency-provided interpreter may not attend the hearing from the Representative Video Project site.

NOTE 2:

To submit a complaint about an in-person interpreter hired under the micro-purchasing procedures, the ALJ or HO staff should provide the hearing office director with the following information: date and time of incident, vendor's or interpreter's name as written on the delivery ticket, and details regarding the nature of the complaint.

2. Telephone Interpreter Services (TIS)

TIS is a telephone service that provides immediate interpreter services and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. TIS has over 3,000 interpreters who can interpret over 150 languages and dialects.

TIS is usually able to connect the HO with a qualified interpreter within a few minutes for common languages. However, some languages may require advance scheduling. A TIS interpreter can be scheduled at the same time the hearing is scheduled. Scheduling in advance ensures that TIS will have an interpreter with the needed language readily available at the time of the hearing. To obtain or schedule a TIS interpreter, HO staff will contact Language Select at 1-800-200-7236.

The HO staff does not need any specific authorization to use TIS. An ALJ does not need to certify a TIS interpreter on the record at the hearing. See HALLEX I-2-6-10. For specific instructions on using TIS, see the Multi-language Resources Page.

NOTE:

To submit a complaint about a TIS interpreter, the ALJ or HO staff should provide the RO with the following information: date and time of incident; HO's Detailed Office/Organization Resource System (DOORS) code; interpreter identification number; and details regarding the nature of the complaint.