For most countries, collaborations with personnel and scholars at foreign institutions or organizations do not require export licenses unless there is export controlled or restricted technology involved. However, for a small number of sanctioned countries, and a growing list of restricted foreign universities and organizations in a slightly broader set of countries, U.S. universities must conduct due diligence to ensure that academic and research collaborations do not violate U.S. law. At a minimum, before engaging in the substance of an international collaboration, the university needs to verify that the foreign individual and/or organization are not identified as a restricted or sanctioned entity, including those identified on the Department of Commerce Entity List, and the Department of Treasury Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List.

U.S. Embargoes and Sanction Programs

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is responsible for enforcing U.S. embargoes and sanction programs. Depending on the scope of the prohibitions in an embargo or sanction program, different activities may be restricted without a specific government authorization or license.

OFAC sanction programs can be generalized into three categories:

  • Comprehensive—Under a comprehensive sanction program, substantially all interactions and activities of an economic nature are generally prohibited, including exporting, importing, financial transactions of any kind, and/or providing services. Even at this level, there can be exceptions (called General Licenses) that allow specific activities. For example, there are General Licenses that allow for the exchange of informational materials, and/or certain academic engagements.
  • Limited—Under a limited sanction program, typically only sectoral-specific activities are prohibited. Generally, these programs allow academic and research engagements outside of the indicated sectors. 
  • Regime or List-based—Regime or List-based sanctions are targeted against specific individuals identified by the Treasury Department (referred to as Specially Designated Nationals or SDNs) or against specific entites usually associated with a governmental body or regime, including private sector entities that support the indicated regime.

Below is a table that provides a list of the most relevant OFAC country-specific sanctions programs, along with an indication of the scope of the prohibitions. For additional information, including a complete list of country- and issue-specific sanction programs, see OFAC Sanction Program Summaries.

COMPREHENSIVE

LIMITED

REGIME/LIST

Cuba

Russia

Venezuela

Iran

Belarus

Burma

Syria

North Korea

Congo (Democratic Republic)

Ukraine - Donbas/Crimea

Sudan

Yemen

Informational Materials and Publishing Activities

OFAC generally allows for activities in support of publishing and/or marketing of informational materials with sanctioned countries. U.S. persons can freely engage in activities that are “necessary and ordinarily incident to the publishing and marketing of manuscripts, books, journals, and newspapers in paper or electronic format…” This general license allows university personnel to participate in any activity that is part of the normal academic peer-review or publishing process. However, it does not allow for these activities to occur if the foreign person(s) involved is a governmental official, or represents or is working on behalf of the government of the sanctioned country. For the purposes of this license, academic and research institutions and their personnel are not considered governmental employees or their representatives. It is important to note that this general license does not allow for or authorize the provision of any customized or consulting services. Such activities would still require a separate governmental authorization or license.