International Collaborations and Export Controls


Issued: March 31, 2017
Last Revised: July 11, 2022
Last Reviewed: July 11, 2022                                                           

2. Policy Purpose

The University of Southern California (“USC”) engages in a variety of activities related to research, instruction, healthcare, student outreach, and other strategic collaborations and affiliations that may create obligations under United States export control regulations, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and economic and trade sanctions regulations. This policy describes the laws and university procedures that apply to these activities and interactions.

3. Scope and Application

This policy applies when USC and any of its employees or students engage in research, instruction, healthcare, student outreach, and other strategic collaborations and activities that include collaboration with foreign individuals or organizations or the export of goods or services to foreign countries. The university and all of its employees and students must comply with applicable export control, economic and trade sanctions, and anti-bribery and anti-corruption laws in connection with such activities, as set forth in more detail below.

4. Definitions

Actual ExportUnder federal export regulations, an actual export is defined as an actual shipment or transmission of items out of the United States. This includes standard physical movement of items across the border by truck, car, plane, rail, hand- carry or other means of transport. Technology, data or software may be exported or reexported both physically or electronically, such as through email, telephone discussions, fax, posting on the internet, cloud sharing and a variety of other non-physical means.
Deemed ExportUnder federal export regulations, the release or transfer of technology, data or source code subject to the export control regulations to a foreign person in the United States. Deemed exports can be conveyed through visual inspection, oral exchange, electronic/digital exchange, or made available by practice/application (e.g., training). Under the export control regulations, deemed exports are considered to be an export to the foreign person’s country of origin and are subject to the same rules that an actual export would be.
Economic Sanctions (“OFAC”)Under federal regulations administered by the Office of Foreign Assets Controls in the Department of Treasury, the U. S. imposes economic and trade sanctions against targeted foreign countries and their governments, as well as specified entities and individuals, for reasons of national security and foreign policy.
Export Administration Regulations (“EAR”)The Export Administration Regulations are administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce and regulate the export of “dual-use” items. “Dual-use” items include goods and related technology which are designed for commercial purposes, but which could also have military applications.
Export Control(s)(led)Export controls are federal laws that regulate the export of technologies, equipment, software, biological agents and related data and services for reasons of economic and national security. These laws include, but are not limited to, EAR, ITAR, FCPA, and/or OFAC.
Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”)The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is an anti-bribery law that prohibits U.S. organizations and employees from offering payments or anything of value to foreign officials to secure an improper advantage or obtain or retain business and imposes due diligence requirements on US entities in the selection of foreign business collaborators.
Foreign OfficialUnder the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a “foreign official” includes:Any officer or employee of a foreign government of any rankEmployees of government-owned or controlled businesses (including in some instances foreign university employees)Foreign political parties or party officials or candidates for political officeEmployees of public international organizations, such as the United Nations or World Bank
Fundamental ResearchUnder federal export regulations, fundamental research is defined as basic and applied research in science and engineering conducted at an accredited U.S. institution of higher education where the resulting information is ordinarily published and shared broadly within the scientific community. Information that qualifies as “fundamental research” is not subject to export control regulations. If research carries with it restrictions on the right to publish and/or restrictions based on nationality, then the project may not qualify as Fundamental Research.
International Traffic in Arms Regulations (“ITAR”)The International Traffic in Arms Regulations are administered by the U.S. Department of State through the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) and regulate items and information whose design, purpose, or use is for military purposes. Items controlled under the ITAR are referred to as “defense articles” and are found on the U.S. Munitions List (USML). The ITAR also controls so-called “defense services”, which include the furnishing of assistance (including training) to non-US persons, whether or not in the United States, with respect to defense articles, as well as the furnishing of any technical data associated with a defense article.
Technology Control Plan (“TCP”)A TCP is a document that outlines the procedures that must be followed on a project-specific basis to ensure the appropriate protection of technology and/or information that is potentially subject to export control regulations or is otherwise subject to personnel and/or publication restrictions.

5. Policy Details


5.1    General Rule: USC generally does not accept research projects that restrict the dissemination of research results or attempt to restrict participation in the research on the basis of nationality. University-based research projects without these restrictions are considered to be Fundamental Research. USC is able to accept pre-publication delays of a limited duration (e.g., 30-90 days) imposed by the sponsor for the purpose of protecting intellectual property rights and/or ensuring against inadvertent disclosure of proprietary or confidential information, if applicable.

5.2     Exceptions to General Rule: In limited circumstances USC will accept restrictions on dissemination of research results and/or participation in research projects based on nationality. Under the federal export regulations, projects with these types of restrictions are not considered Fundamental Research. Therefore, the principal investigator must obtain exceptional approval to proceed, and in the event approval is granted, adhere to all measures required to meet contractual limitations and Export Control requirements. Please see Section 6, “Procedures” for a description of the steps the principal investigator must take in order to request and obtain approval to proceed with a project that carries these types of restrictions.

5.3    In addition to Fundamental Research, if information has already been published or is within the public domain, it is generally not subject to Export Control regulations and may be disseminated freely. Under the Export Control regulations, information is “published” or within the “public domain” when it becomes accessible to the public in any form, including:

  • Publication in periodicals, books, print, electronic or other media available for general distribution (including websites that provide free uncontrolled access) or for distribution to a community of persons interested in the subject matter, such as those in a scientific or engineering discipline;
  • Readily available at libraries open to the public;
  • Patents and published patent applications available at any patent office; and
  • Release at an open conference, meeting, seminar, trade show or other open gathering.

5.4  International research collaborations and research support (including funding, appointments, and provision of in-kind research resources) must be transparently disclosed to USC and to sponsors in connection with proposing and reporting on sponsored research activity. Please consult USC’s Conflict of Interest in Research policy for additional detail on this disclosure obligation, or contact the Office of Culture, Ethics, and Compliance for guidance.

Actual Exports

5.5   All overseas shipments of materials, items, technology, software, and software source code constitute exports that may require a license or other form of governmental authorization. Overseas shipments include both shipping an item from the U.S. using a third-party carrier (e.g., Fed Ex) as well as personally taking items abroad. If USC personnel intend to export items that may be Export Controlled, the Office of Compliance must be contacted prior to the export to ensure appropriate authorization is obtained if required.

Biological and Chemical Materials: Taking biological or chemical samples abroad is an export under U.S. Export Controls. For example, materials that could be used for manufacture of biological or chemical weapons and chemicals that are used as propellants and high explosive materials may require specific export licenses depending on the country. Also, there may be specific health and safety requirements in order to safely transport these materials. Always reach out to the Office of Culture, Ethics, and Compliance for guidance before taking biological or chemical samples abroad.

Doing Business with International Collaborators

5.6         The Office of the Vice President for Global Initiatives must approve all initiatives that involve establishment of an overseas presence or international collaboration with any overseas university, institution, or governmental entity, excluding sponsored research agreements and technology licenses.

5.7         USC employees and third-party subcontractors are prohibited from directly or indirectly giving or receiving improper payments or other benefits to or from a Foreign Official to gain a commercial or other advantage in violation of the FCPA. The types of payments covered by the FCPA are broad and cover anything that may confer a benefit on someone in a position to provide a commercial or other advantage to USC. Some examples include:

  • Any gift of cash or a cash substitute;
  • Anything that is offered as a “quid pro quo” (a payment in exchange for favor or advantage);
  • Any gift or entertainment that is illegal under the foreign country’s laws, or known to be prohibited by the Foreign Official’s department, agency, or organization;
  • Anything that may influence, or may be perceived as influencing, the decision of anyone considered to be a Foreign Official;
  • Anything given to a Foreign Official associated with a tender or competitive bidding process where USC is involved;
  • Any inappropriate entertainment (such as entertainment that is illegal under local law or U.S. law); and
  • Any travel, entertainment, or gifts to a family member of, or person otherwise closely associated with, a Foreign Official.

5.8       USC faculty, staff, and student employees are expected to exercise care and take all necessary precautions to ensure that they are conducting business with reputable and qualified business collaborators (e.g., agents, representatives, recruiters, distributors, and any other representatives collaborating with or on behalf of USC). Examples of due diligence include determining:

  • Whether potential foreign representatives and collaborators are qualified to do business with USC;
  • Whether the foreign entity or person has personal or professional ties to a foreign government;
  • The number and reputation of a company or person’s other clientele; and
  • The person or company’s reputation with the U.S. embassy or consulate and with local bankers, clients, and other business associates.
  • Whether there have been previous university engagements with the prospective business partner.

5.9     To avoid making improper payments to Foreign Officials when conducting USC business overseas, USC faculty, staff, and student employees are also expected to perform due diligence on overseas business collaborators and to be alert to “red flags” with regard to these business collaborators. For guidance on the kinds of things that may constitute red flags, please visit The Office of Culture, Ethics, and Compliance International Business page.

International Travel Considerations

5.10     USC faculty, staff, and student employees traveling overseas must comply, as applicable, with all applicable Export Control and sanction regulations. This includes:

  • License requirements for exports: Obtaining a license from the Department of Commerce and/or State before taking export-controlled items overseas (e.g., proprietary software source code, equipment) unless a license exception applies. See Section 5.5 (Actual Exports);
  • Economic Sanctions: Adhering to any OFAC economic and trade sanctions imposed against targeted foreign countries and regimes for reasons of national security and foreign policy. See Section 5.12, below; and
  • FCPA considerations: Adhering to the requirements of the FCPA in all foreign financial transactions. (See “Doing Business with International Partners”).

5.11     USC-related Student Travel Abroad: All USC-related international travel by undergraduate or graduate students, whether as part of a program, group, or individually, must adhere to USC’s Student Travel Abroad – Destination Restrictions and Crisis Management policy. This includes: (1) study abroad under the direction of the office of study abroad within a school or department; (2) travel initiated by a student-led organization affiliated with USC; (3) faculty-led travel in connection with an individual faculty academic or research activity, and (4) students traveling independently of a study abroad program, usually to perform field study, research, attend conferences, or other professional development activities. The policy addresses USC health insurance and International SOS coverage for student travelers, release forms, required health and safety information, and pre-trip orientations and preparation. The Student Travel Abroad policy is a minimum and programs or Schools within USC may have additional requirements. All instances of student travel to countries with U.S. Department of State (DOS) travel warnings, Center for Disease Control (CDC) warnings, or other indicators that might suggest conditions are unhealthy or particularly dangerous for travel, require the Office of Global Initiatives and Provost approval.

5.12     Travel to OFAC-sanctioned Countries: Travel to an OFAC-sanctioned country such as North Korea, Cuba, Syria, or Iran is restricted and licensing requirements generally apply to professional and research-related activities in those countries. Visit the U.S Department of Treasury website to review a current list of countries subject to sanction under OFAC regulations (see “Related Policies and Additional References” to obtain a current list of all countries subject to OFAC sanctions).


5.13       Under federal law, failure to comply with Export Controls regulations can result in severe fines and even imprisonment. For example, violations of federal law can result in civil penalties of up to $500,000 per violation and criminal penalties of up to $1 million per violation and up to twenty years in prison.

Under USC policy, failure to comply with Export Controls and/or USC-imposed requirements may also be cause for disciplinary action up through and including termination. Possible violations of this policy include, but are not limited to, engaging in an export without obtaining a license, failing to obtain appropriate authorization from OFAC prior to undertaking travel to sanctioned countries, giving or receiving improper payments or other benefits to a Foreign Official to gain a commercial or other advantage in violation of the FCPA, and failing to adhere to university-imposed measures intended to mitigate potential export violations (see “Procedures” Sections 6.3 and 6.4).

Sanctions for violations of this policy by a faculty member will observe all provisions of the Faculty Handbook under Section 6-AA(2). Sanctions for violations of this policy for staff or other non-faculty employees will observe all provisions of the staff employment policies. Sanctions for violations of this policy for students will observe all provisions contained in SCampus.

6. Procedures

7. Forms

Proposal Exception Request Application to Request Approval for Conducting Restricted Research:

8. Responsibilities

Office of Culture, Ethics and Compliance

Owner of policy; responsible for oversight of international collaborations and export control compliance programs.
Office of Research and InnovationSenior Vice President for Research and Innovation chairs the International Collaborations and Export Controls Committee; Department of Contracts and Grants identifies restricted research proposals/agreements.
Office of Global InitiativesResponsible for oversight of international collaboration and affiliations and student travel abroad.

9. Related Information

Related Policies and Additional References:

10. Contacts

Please direct any questions regarding this policy to:

Office of Culture, Ethics and Compliance(213)

11. Policy URL