Texas Tech University

Going Global—Sanctions and How They Can Impact Your Research

By Jennifer Horn

What do embargoes and economic sanctions have to do with academics and their research? As we become more "global" in our academic engagement and educational outreach, we risk running afoul of U.S. export laws, embargoes, and sanctions. The Office of the VP for Research offers support for faculty and staff traveling, researching, and collaborating abroad on behalf of the university.
Let's start with economic sanctions—what are they and why are they imposed? Sanctions are actions taken by the federal government and may be imposed against a country or entity for a variety of reasons: support of terrorism, human rights violations, drug trafficking, and most recently, cyber-security violations.

The U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Controls (OFAC) has major sanctions in place against exports to Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Syria, and the Crimea region of the Ukraine. Lesser sanctions are in place against countries such as North Korea, Burma (Myanmar), Cote D'Ivoire, Darfur, Belarus, Lebanon, Somalia, Yemen, Central African Republic, et al. There are also sanctions in place against institutions and individuals.*

As a default, major sanctions prohibit transactions involving commodities, technologies, money, and services (often including educational services) to those countries affected. In addition, laws, Presidential Executive Orders, regulations, general licenses, and letter rulings from OFAC complicate what you can and cannot do with different sanctioned countries.**

Take Away #1 for faculty/staff: You will find a list of current financial sanctions on the U.S. Department of the Treasury website . If you plan to travel, visit, or collaborate with an individual or institution in Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Syria, or any other listed sanctioned country, you should first contact Jennifer Horn, J.D., Director of Export and Security Compliance at jennifer.horn@ttu.edu or 806.834.3870.

Examples of how these activities might arise:

  • You are asked to peer review or edit a work from an author in Cuba or Iran.
  • You want to ship equipment to a sanctioned country.
  • You want to offer an online class to participants in one of the sanctioned countries.
  • You want to host a student or scholar from a sanctioned country to TTU.
  • You want to present at a conference occurring in a sanctioned country.

Can you do any of the above? Your favorite answer is coming . . . it depends. It depends on the parties involved, the general licenses available, which are different for each country, and a host of other variables. You are not expected to know the answer. International Affairs regularly screens travel conducted on behalf of those traveling on TTU official business. Their office will let you know if a general screen shows an issue for an individual, entity, or country. IA will refer any sanction issues to my office for review.

If International Affairs finds a "flag" during their screening, you will likely be asked for additional information. If a research related activity is legally permissible, we will help you with the necessary steps to comply with federal law, proceed with your project, and if needed, obtain a license for the activity. If federal law prohibits what you want to do, I will notify you and explain the reason for the prohibition.

Jennifer Horn, J.D. is director of Export and Security Compliance in the Office of the Vice President for Research.


*But didn't President Obama lift the embargo against Cuba? He took steps to reestablish diplomatic relations and increased the ability to travel and transmit funds to Cuba, but the embargo must be lifted by Congress and may not be lifted until Cuba holds free & fair elections and transitions to a democratic government. Look what happened to some folks who tried to ship a piano from London to Cuba using funds raised on Eventbrite, a U.S. based website.

** Violations of these sanctions carry civil monetary penalties for individuals (you, if you ignore the institution's advice) and institutions. As of August 1, 2016, the penalties have been adjusted for inflation (looking out for you, the taxpayer). For most violations, penalties range from $10,000 to $284,582, or twice the amount of the underlying transaction, per violation.