Export Controls Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Frequently asked questions about export controls. 

Q: What are export controls and why do they exist?

A: Export Controls refers to a variety of U.S. federal laws and regulations controlling what commodities, technologies, software, and services may be sent to foreign locations or disclosed to foreign persons. The purpose of these is to protect U.S. national security and foreign policy interests from malign foreign actors who may wish to access our most advanced and useful technologies.

Q: Isn’t academia exempt from these rules?

A: Not entirely. While there are some important “carve-outs” from these rules for institutions of higher learning in the U.S. (see here), export controls can and do apply to a variety of common activities occurring within the research enterprise at Cornell and elsewhere.

International shipping, travel to foreign locations, or even hosting foreign national visitors can all have potential export controls implications for you and Cornell.

Q: What is the Fundamental Research Exclusion (FRE)?

A: The FRE is one of the useful carve-outs afforded to academia with regards to export controls in the U.S. If your work qualifies as fundamental research (no barriers to publication or participation in the research efforts) then the results of such research are NOT subject to export controls requirements.

Q: What is Cornell’s policy on fundamental research; can I do controlled or classified work here?

A: Cornell University only conducts research that would fall under the FRE. Research projects that do not permit the free and open publication of results are not accepted at Cornell. Therefore no export-controlled or classified work may be conducted here. Refer to University Policy 4.22.

Great effort is put into ensuring sponsored research at Cornell does not come with problematic clauses or restrictions that would negate the FRE – and thus subject the products of our research work to export controls.

Q: Does the FRE cover the export of physical items?

A: No, only non-tangible research results in the form of technology are excluded under the FRE. Physical items will always remain subject to U.S. export controls. Depending on various factors a license may be required to physically export an item.

Q:  What should I do then if I have to ship something internationally as part of my Cornell duties/responsibilities?

A:  ALL international shipments sent from Cornell require review and approval from the Export Controls Office.  Until further notice, this review is to be conducted via email (exportcontrols@cornell.edu).  See here for further details.

Q: What if the physical item I need to ship was developed from a fundamental research project?

A: The item would still be subject to export controls (and potential licensing) regardless of whether it was the result of fundamental research. As stated above, the FRE never exempts physical items from export control. Such shipments still require review and approval as noted above.

Q: What if my fundamental research project involves proprietary background data (inputs) from the sponsor or another third party?

A: While your research results will be exempt from export controls under the FRE, any proprietary data provided to you from outside of Cornell may be subject to export controls. All such transfers of data to Cornell need to be governed by a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) negotiated by the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) with input from the Cornell University Export Controls Office (ECO).

Q: So, even though my international shipment is related to my research and is non-commercial, it’s still an export?

A: Correct; regardless of whether you’re selling any items to the recipient overseas you are engaging in an export activity by sending something out of the U.S.

Q: What about temporary shipments that come back to the U.S.?

A: Temporary international shipments are still considered exports and must comply with all applicable regulations. There are however certain cases where a temporary export may not require an export license. The Export Controls Office will assist in making this determination.

Q: Is hand-carrying an item during my travels considered an export?

A: Yes, anytime you bring Cornell-owned items with you during international travel (whether in checked or carry-on luggage or on your person) you have just exported such items to your country of destination and any other countries you transited. Export controls regulations and licensing requirements apply equally to such hand-carried exports (although more exemptions may apply for travel than shipping).

Q: Do I need an export license to carry a laptop to a foreign country?

A: Many factors play into that but, for most standard-issued Cornell devices you would not require a license to most countries. However, if there is any proprietary technical data on the device, or if it contains software programs other than those normally installed by the manufacturer or Cornell IT (e.g. MS Office, etc.) than those may trigger the need for an export license. Additionally, the destination you travel could play a role in the determination process.

Review this webpage or contact the Export Controls Office if any questions.

Q: Are there certain countries that export controls makes off-limits?

A: Yes, currently the following countries are subject to comprehensive trade embargoes and sanctions:

  • Cuba
  • Iran
  • North Korea
  • Syria
  • Ukraine
  • Russia
  • Belarus

Nearly all activities with or within these locations (including with universities in these locations) will require US government approval and must be discussed with the Export Controls Office first.

Depending on the nature of your research there may be other country-specific restrictions or considerations to take into account.

Q: Are there certain foreign companies, persons, or other universities that I cannot engage with?

A: Yes, the U.S. government maintains various lists of so-called “Restricted Parties”. Such entities are either prohibited from being involved in export transactions generally, or are sanctioned to the extent that any interaction with them would be prohibited without a license. Contact the Export Controls Office for screening of any foreign entities you may wish to collaborate or engage with.

Additionally, there are certain entities that Cornell University will not allow collaboration with regardless of discipline or circumstances.

Q: What is an export license and how do I get one?

A: An export license is specific authorization from the US government to engage in an export or sanctions activity that would otherwise be prohibited. These licenses must be obtained beforehand and are situation-specific (i.e. no “blanket licenses” can be obtained for your lab).

All export or sanctions licenses at Cornell University must be obtained via the Export Controls Office (ECO).

Q: Who is considered a foreign national for the purposes of export controls?

A: Any person who is not either:

  1. A U.S. Citizen,
  2. A U.S. Permanent Resident (i.e. a green card holder), or
  3. A person offered Protected Status under 8 U.S.C. 1324b(a)(3)…

is considered a foreign national for the purposes of exports controls regulations. Also, employees of foreign entities (including U.S. persons) are treated as foreign nationals no matter where located.

Q: I have a foreign national visiting my lab; do I need an export license?

A: Perhaps, this will depend on many factors. Generally-speaking having a foreign national visiting or working in your lab does not alone necessitate the need for an export license. There would need to be an actual release of export-controlled technology or software to the foreign national (i.e. a deemed export).

If you plan on sharing any information or software with them that is NOT already published and in the public domain, it is possible an export license could be required. Similarly, if you have export-controlled items in your lab and the foreign national requires direct access to them, it is possible a license is needed for that activity – further analysis by the Export Controls Office is necessary.

Also, keep in mind that if your visitor needs to take items from your lab back out of the country with them, this is an export that may require licensing.

Q: My research isn’t funded by the Department of Defense (DOD); do I really need to consider export controls?

A: Yes, the source of funding is not always a proper gauge of whether or not your project could be affected by export controls regulations. There are DOD-funded projects for which export controls are not a factor and conversely, certain non DOD-funded projects are affected by export controls.

Q: I’ve been invited to speak at a conference in Iran. Are there any restrictions on this?

A: Yes, there are prohibitions on providing services (such as lectures or speeches) while in Iran due to the sanctions on that nation. The Export Controls Office should be consulted immediately if you are invited to attend any event in Iran, or if you are considering similar activities in that country.