PURPOSE: To clarify the adjudicative policy on considering work in a foreign country as "past relevant work" for purposes of regulations sections 404.1520(e) and 416.920(e). This program policy statement (PPS) is limited to the criteria of "the physical and mental demands" of past work, as specified in those sections.
CITATIONS (AUTHORITY): Sections 223(d)(2)(A), 1601, and 1614(a)(3)(B) of the Social Security Act, as amended; Regulations No. 4, sections 404.1505(a), 404.1520(e) and (f), 404.1545, 404.1561, and 404.1566; Regulations No. 16, sections 416.905(a), 416.920(e) and (f), 416.945, 416.961, and 416.966.
PERTINENT HISTORY: To be found disabled within the meaning of the law, a claimant (other than a widow(er) or surviving divorced spouse under title II or a child under title XVI of the Social Security Act) must have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death, or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months and which is of such severity that he or she is not only unable to do his or her previous work but cannot, considering his or her age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area of the claimant's residence, a specific job vacancy exists, or the claimant would be hired if he or she applied for work.
The regulations provide a sequential evaluation process. The fourth step in evaluating disability concerns the claimant's ability to do past relevant work. Sections 404.1520(e) and 416.920(e) of the regulations provide: "Your impairment must prevent you from doing past relevant work. If we cannot make a decision based on your current work activity or on medical facts alone, and you have a severe impairment, we then review your residual functional capacity and the physical and mental demands of the work you have done in the past. If you can still do this kind of work, we will find that you are not disabled."
When the claimant's past work was performed within the U.S. national economy, the "kind of work" the claimant did and its physical and mental demands are ordinarily verifiable with employers and can usually be identified in such publications as the U.S. Department of Labor's Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) and its supplements. The DOT provides information about the tools and machines used in an occupation; the raw materials, products, processes or services involved; the physical demands and environmental conditions; and the training time needed to achieve at least average performance. However, there is sometimes no ready and authoritative means to verify or supplement claimants' descriptions of their past jobs outside the U.S. when they are applying for disability benefits after arrival in this country.
In an answer to questions about the relevance of past work performed in a foreign country, a view commonly expressed is that a foreign job is not "relevant" unless substantially similar work can be found in the U.S. economy. This view has been strongly influenced by the practice of verifying or supplementing a claimant's description of his or her past jobs with available information about work in the U.S. economy.
Such a view, however, creates some problems. It interposes a requirement that similar work must be found in the U.S. economy as a condition for determining a claimant able to do past relevant work performed in a foreign country. This elevates an element of the fifth step of the sequential evaluation process, availability of work in the national economy, to the fourth step which only deals with the claimant's ability to do his or her past work. The law does not qualify "previous work" but does specify that "other . . . work" must exist in significant numbers in the national economy. The legislative history of the statutory provisions also does not qualify "previous work," but clearly indicates that the provisions were enacted to provide guidelines "to reemphasize the predominant importance of medical factors in the disability determination."
POLICY STATEMENT: An individual is found to be under a disability only if his or her physical or mental impairment(s) is the primary reason for inability to engage in substantial gainful work activity. Factors including change of residence from one geographical area to another, lack of job openings, and employers' hiring practices are not pertinent to the decision. The proper test in the fourth step of the sequential evaluation process is whether the individual can do his or her previous work, whether in the U.S. or in a foreign economy. A job in a foreign economy need not have a counterpart in the U.S. economy, and the lack of authoritative occupational reference materials for foreign economies is not a barrier to the decision that a claimant can or cannot meet the physical and mental demands of a formerly held foreign job as he or she described it.
The relevance of past work in a foreign economy for purposes of regulations sections 404.1520(e) and 416.920(e) is no different from the relevance of past work in the U.S. economy with respect to the physical and mental demands of the particular past job. If a claimant can meet the sitting, standing, walking, lifting, manipulative, intellectual, emotional and other physical and mental requirements of a past job, he or she is still functionally capable of performing that job regardless of the fact that the individual no longer resides in the country where the past work was performed. It is only after a claimant proves that he or she is not able to do his or her previous work that the burden shifts to the Secretary to show that there is work available in the U.S. national economy which the claimant can do (the fifth and last step of the sequential evaluation process).
EFFECTIVE DATE: This policy is effective May 14, 1982, the date of final approval of this PPS.
CROSS-REFERENCES: Program Operations Manual System, Part 4 (Disability Insurance State Manual Procedures) sections DI 0009.G, 0015, 2041, 2068, 2093, 2105.D, 2155.32 2380.D and E, 2383.A and C, 2383.1, 2384, 2387, 2388, 2389, 3020, 3027, 3120, 3127 and 3210.
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