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As a global university, we are committed to offering every student unique exposure to countries, regions, and global issues, to welcoming the very best students, faculty, staff, and visiting scholars from around the world to our campus, and to supporting research and collaboration at the highest levels. Penn faculty and staff work in over 170 countries and territories around the world and on all seven continents, conducting important research and teaching activities. Penn’s global eminence is directly attributable to these important global research collaborations and the many talented international and American students, scholars and partners who come to our campus each year.

Penn’s Commitment to Global Engagement

In recognition of the global nature of its community and its aspiration to eminence, Penn has made a deep commitment to global engagement as part of the Penn Compact 2020. Penn’s global engagement fundamentally reflects and embraces its Trustees’ resolution that “Penn rejoices in the rich diversity of persons, groups, views, and academic disciplines and programs that grace the campus of the nation’s first university. Tapping our diversity to strengthen ties across all boundaries enriches the intellectual climate and creates a more vibrant community. Fostering and nourishing this diversity, especially among students, faculty, staff, and trustees must remain central to the core missions of the University.”

Nearly all forms of international collaboration and global engagement are both permitted and encouraged under University policies as well as relevant government laws and regulations. However, in a small number of cases, international collaboration and global engagement activities, if not managed properly, may result in harm, loss of funding, or legal jeopardy to the University, its students, and its faculty. Accordingly, the University encourages all members of the Penn community to take a series of simple steps to ensure that their international collaborations and global engagement activities are both transparent and in full compliance with relevant policies and regulations.

This guidance has been prepared by Penn Global, Global Support Services and the Office of Research Services,  Export Compliance Office, to ensure that research and educational activities abroad or involving foreign partners on campus do not precipitate any compliance issues that might impact your work.

Travel Abroad

Obtaining a visa for international travel

It is important for Penn travelers engaged in Penn activity outside the United States to travel with the appropriate immigration documentation, including passport and visa where required. Non-US citizen members of the Penn community who will return to campus following international travel should consult their sponsoring institution for required documents, signatures and US entry visa requirements.

For assistance with obtaining the appropriate visa, use Penn’s preferred visa processing vendor, CIBT visas, via Penn’s CIBT Portal. Penn travelers may also refer to the Office of Global Support Service’s outbound travel visa site for information and guidance on visa categories and the general application process.

Penn travelers are encouraged to carry documentation related to their current travel (invitation letter, itinerary, etc.), even when using a valid entrance visa previously received, such as a multiple entry or multi-year visa.

Global Support Services recommends reviewing current travel alerts or advisories posted on the U.S. State Department’s website as well as the traveler’s respective home country’s embassy’s website (when applicable), for guidance on travel risks. Dual U.S.-foreign nationals may need to exercise increased caution due to special restrictions or arbitrary enforcement of local laws.

Consult Penn’s Travel Health & Safety site to prepare for an upcoming trip and understand any vaccinations required for entry. Visit Penn’s medical and security assistance vendor, International SOS (ISOS) via the ISOS Penn Portal for medical, security, and logistics questions.

In the event of an emergency or being detained while abroad, Penn travelers should contact the University at 215-573-3333 as well as ISOS for immediate assistance and their home country’s nearest embassy. U.S. citizens in an emergency or detained overseas, can contact the U.S. embassy or consulate or the U.S. Department of State, Office of Overseas Citizens Services, at (888) 407-4747 (from the U.S. or Canada) or (202) 501-4444 (from overseas). Consular officers are available for emergency assistance 24 hours/day, 7 days/week.

Best practices for data security when traveling abroad

Protecting your data while traveling is extremely important. When transporting STEM related or medical technical data, check with your department to see if a sanitized “loaner” laptop is available to help avoid exposing your data to inspection. Avoid carrying any sensitive, confidential, or proprietary data, and avoid using a USB (“thumb”) drive or other portable media given to you while traveling.

Please consult both Information Systems and Computing (ISC) and Penn Global for guidance on safeguarding data while traveling abroad.

Software/equipment licensing requirements prior to exporting

Remember that everything you take with you while traveling abroad is considered an export, even if you bring it back. Before taking any Penn-owned items to sensitive countries (including laptops and corresponding software), and well in advance of travel, please contact Penn’s Office of Export Compliance to determine if an export license may be required for the particular country to which you are traveling. Many items will not require a license, or will qualify for a license exception, but this will depend on the items/technologies as well as the foreign entities and institutions involved. If you have questions about which countries are considered sensitive, contact the Office of Export Compliance.

For commercially available items and software, determining whether a license is required is typically quick and rarely requires more than 1-3 days. For travelers who wish to take non-commercial items (e.g., Penn-created prototypes, robots/UAVs and associated algorithms), the process may take several weeks as these items will need to be classified in terms of export control regulations.

Overview of Regulations, Policies, and Procedures

Penn supports an open academic environment where scholarship and research are conducted without censure of ideas and without restriction on who may participate in activities. This applies regardless of field of inquiry and regardless of the physical location. Penn faculty and students should be comfortable that global research collaborations and scholarly engagement abroad and on campus are permissible as long as basic steps are taken to ensure that no legal issues arise as a result of the activity.

Penn’s global engagement activities also uphold the University’s non-discrimination policy, which stipulates that “The University of Pennsylvania values diversity and seeks talented students, faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds. The University of Pennsylvania does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, creed, national or ethnic origin, citizenship status, age, disability, veteran status or any other legally protected class status in the administration of its admissions, financial aid, educational or athletic programs, or other University-administered programs or in its employment practices.”

In addition, all Penn activities, whether conducted on campus or overseas, must comply with applicable regulatory requirements. These regulatory requirements include U.S. export control laws, promulgated by the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Department of Commerce, and U.S trade sanctions promulgated by the U.S. Treasury Department. Specific information about each of these regulatory schemes and the management of export control compliance at Penn is available from Penn ORS. U.S. export control laws restrict or require licensing for the export, even temporarily, of many items and technology to countries around the world. Penn employees working abroad, particularly in sensitive countries, should familiarize themselves with these export control laws.

Moreover, the laws restrict exports to certain entities and individuals including some academic institutions in some countries, as well as the sharing of technologies with individuals affiliated with those entities while in the United States. The Penn Office of Export Compliance can provide country-specific briefings to explain export control requirements in a particular country and assist with any questions regarding licensing requirements for specific activities.

Restricted party screening, export controls, and other federally-mandated regulations

Export control regulations apply to advanced technologies and specific countries. The first step in ensuring compliance with U.S. export control regulations is the performance of restricted party screening, where necessary. At Penn, assistance with screening may be obtained by contacting the Office of Global Support Services or the Export Controls Office within the Office of Research Services.

Additionally, many business offices across campus can assist with screening.

Who/what should be screened?

  • Memorandum of Understanding with academic institutions abroad even where the scope of future activities has not been defined
  • New business relationships with foreign entities that involve advanced technology (including foreign subsidiaries, even if located in the United States)
  • Individuals being sponsored by Penn for visas
  • International visitors touring Penn research labs or facilities

When should screening occur?

  • Screening should occur as early as possible. It should be done prior to the signing of any formal agreements, such as memoranda of understanding, membership agreements, letters of cooperation, collaboration agreements, sponsored research agreements, or purchasing agreements. Screening should occur prior to any financial transactions with the foreign entity or individual. Screening well in advance of any activities, including visa sponsorship, will allow adequate time to obtain any necessary U.S. government licenses required to allow the activity to move forward.

What happens if my research partner or his/her institution is on a restricted parties list?

  • Please contact the Office of Export Compliance to discuss.

U.S. government scrutiny and federal funder interpretations

Recently, there has been intensifying scrutiny of China’s activities in the United States, with an emphasis on unfair trade practices and theft of intellectual property. This scrutiny has resulted in new Congressional actions in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that prohibit the purchase of telecommunications equipment from some Chinese companies with the use of federal funds or where federal data will transit the system. Additionally, the relationships of U.S. academic institutions with these companies are being looked at more critically. Penn encourages faculty and employees working in STEM-related areas with Chinese institutions to work closely with Penn Global, Global Support Services, and the Office of Export Compliance to understand any changes in federal laws or policies that might impact your work.

Importance of disclosing international activities in grant applications and annual disclosures to Penn

Federal funding agencies, such as National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF), are also facing scrutiny. In particular, NIH has identified cases where proposals in the peer review process have been diverted to foreign entities, as well as instances where “shadow labs” funded by foreign governments are performing substantially the same research as that funded by NIH in the United States. As a result, these agencies are providing increased guidance on the requirement to report foreign components on research awards and what those foreign components include. It is important for Penn faculty and staff to disclose all of their international activities in their annual disclosures within their Schools and to disclose those that are related to their research in their reports and proposals to funding agencies.

Partnering or signing agreements / MOU with foreign institutions or organizations

Academic MOUs with foreign institutions should be reviewed by the Office of Global Support Services prior to signing. As part of this review process, Global Support Services will screen for restricted parties and institutions. Collaboration agreements should be routed through Penn’s Research Inventory System (RIS) for review and signature. Restricted party screening and export control review are part of the internal review process in RIS. Most importantly, only those with appropriate signatory authority should be signing international agreements on behalf of Penn. For example, deans may sign general academic MOUs, while the Office of Research Services, the Penn Center for Innovation, and the Office of Clinical Research in the Perelman School of Medicine are responsible for reviewing and signing research-related agreements.

Sponsoring visiting scholars and researchers

Penn fully supports the hosting of visiting scholars and researchers from abroad. However, it is important to perform restricted party screening before issuing an invitation and sponsoring a visa to visitors to ensure that the proposed activities may be legally performed at Penn. If the scholar is from a foreign institution or university that is a restricted party, further scrutiny and due diligence may be required. For example, access by the visitor to export-controlled equipment or software or to proprietary information may need to be restricted or a license may be required to allow the visitor access. It may take several weeks to months to obtain any required government-issued licenses. Please contact for assistance in determining if licenses are required and obtaining them if necessary. It is also important to ensure that Visiting Scholars/Researchers understand Penn’s Patent Policy and limits on the use of Penn-owned Intellectual Property after they have returned to their home institutions.

Visa sponsoring and invitations to Penn

It is important that all scholars and visitors on campus have the appropriate authorizations, especially when Penn is the sponsoring institution. For Penn-sponsored students or scholars, all U.S. immigration procedures should be coordinated through the International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) office. Once on campus, any change in the student or scholar’s department, field of study, access, funding, or any other immigration affirmations must be reported and coordinated through ISSS; otherwise they risk jeopardizing their visa status.

Invitation letters sent to visitors allowing them to obtain a Tourist or Business Visa to the U.S. are frequently prepared for international delegations, professional training participants, and general ad hoc visitors. While Penn is not considered the Sponsor of the Visa, any letter should clearly state the dates and purpose of the visit and all individuals and their foreign institution should be screened before issuing the letter. ISSS has guidance and sample letters to be used for some of the common academic visitor or professional training programs conducted at Penn.

G. Lab tours / visits

Penn welcomes visitors to the campus, including on tours of our state-of-the art research facilities. Many of our STEM related labs contain technologies and information that might be export controlled. In the context of research collaboration, information exchange is the norm and practices are defined by the head of the program. Research team members should all be aware of what information can be shared with the public, with collaborators and any other groups on campus. Attention is warranted in managing the dissemination of this information.

Even when individual and affiliated institutions are not on restricted party lists and there are no export control issues, it is nevertheless good practice to refrain from sharing information and results not yet public, or IP not yet protected, with general visitors.

Restricted party screening should be performed prior to providing a tour or hosting a potential collaborator when the activity is STEM-related and involves technologies and information that might be restricted or export controlled Best Practices for international visits to labs that might contain sensitive information or technologies include the following steps:

  • Ensure that no confidential or proprietary information is visible at the time of the visit
  • Do not permit visitors to insert thumb drives or other media into Penn-owned computers.
  • Ensure that visitors are escorted throughout the tour

Schools and Departments are responsible for providing appropriate training to staff and faculty about guidelines for lab visits and touring.

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Related FAQs

What is the NIH definition of a foreign institution?

NIH defines a foreign institution as an organization located in a country other than the United States and its territories that is subject to the laws of that country, regardless of the citizenship of the proposed Program Director/Principal Investigator.

What is a foreign component?

A foreign component is the performance of a significant scientific element of the NIH-supported project outside of the United States. Once a recipient determines that a portion of the project will be conducted outside of the U.S., the recipient then will need to determine if the activities are considered significant. If both criteria are met, then there is a foreign component.

I have a collaborator from another country who will work in my NIH-funded laboratory on my NIH project but receive no salary from my NIH grant. Is this considered a foreign component?

No, a “Foreign Component” exists only if the research activities occur outside of the United States.

I have been invited to present at an international conference in a country that is on the U.S. sanctions list. Can I do this?

Presenting at an international conference in a U.S. sanctioned country may be viewed as providing a prohibited “service” under U.S. sanctions regulations. You should consult with the Office of Export Compliance prior to presenting to determine if a license is required (please note a license is required even when giving a virtual presentation).
Generally, any presentation to an international audience should be limited to the following:
• information that is already published;
• information already in the public domain; and/or
• information consistent with that conveyed by instruction in catalog courses and associated teaching laboratories at U.S. institutions of higher education.
Please visit Engaging with Sanctioned and Embargoed Countries for more information.

I plan to host a webinar/web conference on my research to be shared internationally. What do I need to know?

Information released at an open conference, meeting or webinar is considered published and excluded from certain controls. “Open” means that all technically qualified members of the public are eligible to attend, and attendees are permitted to take notes or otherwise make a personal record (not necessarily a recording) of the proceedings and presentations. An “open” conference can charge a registration fee reasonably related to cost, and can limit actual attendance, as long as attendees either are the first who have applied or are selected on the basis of relevant scientific or technical competence, experience, or responsibility. However, certain sensitive information cannot be shared via open conference or webinar. Evaluation is case-specific. Thus, it is recommended that you contact the Office of Export Compliance to review your circumstances.

What is an example of an activity that is not a foreign component, but would meet the definition of other support? What is the difference?

This is unique to each situation and depends upon specific details surrounding a particular activity. For instance, one model could be that a PI on an NIH grant may have an appointment and a lab at a foreign university. The research being done at the foreign lab is unrelated to the PI’s NIH project. This would not qualify as a foreign component of the NIH research, as the foreign work is not part of the NIH-funded project. However, it is a resource made available to the researcher in support of their research. Therefore, it must be reported as Other Support.

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