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Online Education During the COVID-19 Pandemic – FAQs

If you are involved in the development or teaching of, or are enrolled in, a JHU online educational course, please review the following frequently asked questions (FAQs).  This guidance does not cover every possible question, nor is it meant to be legal advice.  Rather, the following directions and FAQs highlight critical compliance issues and questions for you to consider and provide you with important JHU contact information.


1.      Q:  Are there US legal restrictions on providing online educational services to students who are located outside the United States?

A:  Yes, possibly.  US laws known as US export controls and economic sanctions restrict, and in some cases prohibit, the export of certain “services” to various countries.  Online education qualifies as such a service.  These US laws intersect and restrict both what can be exported (i.e., the content of an online course) and to whom it can be exported (i.e., persons in or from certain countries).  Please note that an “export” includes providing online education to a person physically located in another country or providing online educational services to a foreign person, wherever located. 

2.      Q: Do these US legal restrictions apply to both undergraduate and graduate level courses?

A: Yes.  However, graduate-level courses are generally subject to greater restrictions than undergraduate level courses.

3.      Q: Are there certain countries that we need to worry about?

A:  Yes.  If JHU has knowledge that a student taking an online course is currently residing in: Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, or Ukraine (Crimea region only) (the “Comprehensively Sanctioned countries”), then an immediate review by JHU’s Export Control & Facility Security Office (“ECO” below) of the facts surrounding this situation is required (Office email address: ECO@jhu.edu).  Comprehensive sanctions are imposed by US law and are so strict as to allow us to provide only very limited services – such as those related to humanitarian relief – to persons physically located in these countries.

4.      Q: Can JHU provide online educational services to individuals who are citizens of US-sanctioned countries if they have already been issued non-immigrant visas (“NIVs”) for study at JHU in the United States?

A:  Yes.  If we can confirm that an individual is covered by an appropriate NIV, and that they will be taking the online course(s) while in the United States (e.g., at their place of residence in Baltimore), then no further sanctions restrictions apply. 

HOWEVER, if due to COVID-19 travel restraints, that same individual is currently residing in their home country or a third-country, and not in the United States, then providing the person access to online educational services may be a violation of US economic sanctions, especially if they are a citizen of one of the Comprehensively Sanctioned countries.   If this situation arises, stop all work immediately and contact ECO and/or JHU’s Office of General Counsel to discuss further. 

5.      Q:  How do I know if a proposed educational or research activity may be restricted or prohibited by economic sanctions?

A:  This is a fact-specific analysis. Here are a few examples that will always require review by JHU:

·        If you have a reason to believe that a proposed activity would result in JHU providing an individual (as a student, or in some other capacity) with access to JHU resources (educational/ research/other) while physically present in a Comprehensively Sanctioned Country, then stop work and contact the ECO or OGC immediately.

·        If you are aware of any foreign student who is taking an online course (in the US or elsewhere) without holding any type of non-immigrant visa, then further information is required about the student’s citizenship and where they are currently residing (i.e., in what country?).  JHU will screen this information against restrictions under the Comprehensive Sanctions Programs and the “Targeted Sanctions Programs” (listed in Appendix A below).


6.      Q:  How is a “foreign person” defined under these US laws?

A:  A foreign person is not a) a U.S. citizen, b) a lawful permanent resident of the U.S., or c) recognized by the U.S. Government as a refugee or asylee.  Those who qualify as any of the three are referred to as “U.S. persons.”

7.      Q:  What should I do, if I discover that a student will be receiving instruction while in one of the Comprehensively Sanctioned Countries?

A:  Contact ECO immediately and work with them to analyze the facts and determine whether immediate suspension of the person’s access to the online educational services is warranted.  Be prepared to provide the following information to ECO:

o   Person’s Full Legal Name

o   Physical address at which person will be residing while receiving instruction

o   Course details (school, program, applicable degree/certificate, course name & number)

o   Visa information (if applicable)

8.      Q:  How do I know if my online course includes technology or technical information that is restricted by US export controls?

A:  US export controls (including those applicable to defense-related items and technology) offer exclusions for information released in catalog courses or associated teaching laboratories of an academic institution, including general science, math, or engineering principles commonly taught in universities.  You may assume that such exclusions apply to your course, unless it includes:

a)      Technical information connected with research that is being performed under a federal or private award that imposes controls on the dissemination of that information; or

b)     Instruction on the use of items having clear defense, space or intelligence applications. 

9.      Q: RESERVED


Business/Vendor FAQs:

10.  Q: What steps can I take to prevent unauthorized access to JHU online educational resources?

A:  Work with JHU’s partner and/or the company contact or IT personnel that regularly facilitates your online instruction to confirm that controls exist or may be applied to IP addresses originating in sanctioned countries (for example: .ir).  Please also contact ECO for assistance in facilitating this discussion and/or other alternative steps tailored to a particular course or circumstance.

11.  Q: What do I do if a student’s access from another country to an online education course is “blocked” and they cannot get access to the course?

A:  If you are a student, please report this issue immediately to your professor via email or other communication.  If you are a professor, please report this issue to your supervisor within Central Administration.  JHU will work with the online education vendor used for that course offering to ascertain the reason why a particular IP address or other access to data may have been blocked.  Please do not independently try to find a way to work around the “block” without involving Central Administration.  There may be legitimate compliance reasons that a block is in place.  In some cases, a vendor may block access if an IP address appears to originate in a Comprehensively Sanctioned Country.  In other cases, the foreign country may have firewalls that censor certain programs or websites and may prevent an individual from accessing the online course program. 

12.  Q: ZOOM blocked access to one of my students and the person was not in a country that is included on the US economic sanctions list.  Why did ZOOM block this student?

A: ZOOM is a US company and therefore has an obligation to comply with US sanctions laws.  ZOOM has published that it will block access to students in certain countries due to US sanctions restrictions, as well as for certain commercial reasons, such as in the U.A.E., where ZOOM includes information about a U.A.E. platform provider.  Using ZOOM in certain countries may also require a student to have certain software or plug-ins.  See https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/203806119-Will-Zoom-work-internationally- for further information.  Please contact JHU’s IT and/or ECO to discuss instances in which a student appears to have been blocked by ZOOM. 


13.  Q: Who is responsible for ensuring compliance with US export controls and economic sanctions?

A:  These laws apply to all “US persons” – both individuals and entities.  JHU, as an organization incorporated in Maryland, is a “US person” and must comply with these laws and regulations.  The online education service providers and technology platform companies must also comply with these laws.  Additionally, any US citizen, as well as any individual that is physically in the United States, is obligated to comply with these laws.  The US government has the power to issue monetary and other penalties for violations of these laws, including debarment (withdrawal of the right to obtain US federal funds).  We advise that any person with questions or compliance concerns regarding this information to contact ECO or OGC for assistance.

Foreign Laws and Online Education FAQs:

14.  Q:  In response to the COVID-19 global health pandemic, other countries, such as France, have relaxed restrictions on the receipt and delivery of online educational services.  Does this have an impact on JHU’s compliance obligations?

A: Another country’s relaxation of restrictions on the delivery of online educational services typically affects whether JHU would be required to “register” as a provider of such services in that country or would owe taxes for profit received from them.  Changes in foreign laws do not affect JHU’s obligation to comply with US export controls and economic sanctions laws because they are US laws and apply only to the delivery (or export) of educational services, and not in-country registration. 

JHU is tracking COVID-19 related changes in other countries’ requirements surrounding the provision of online education and related registration, tax, and other compliance issues.  If questions about a foreign law or requirement arise, please contact the OGC for assistance.


15.  Q: Are there restrictions on the provision of “politically sensitive” information that I need to consider in delivering my online course instruction?

A: Yes, possibly.  Restrictions on communication of what might be considered “politically” (or socially, religiously, or otherwise) sensitive rhetoric exist in different forms under local laws around the world.  For example, the new Chinese Cybersecurity Law allows the Chinese government to conduct oversight of all “data” transmitted in or through China.  Please contact the Office of General Counsel if you have concerns about whether a lecture topic may be deemed adverse to a foreign country’s laws.  This type of analysis varies from country-to-country.


Follow this link to access an Online Education Checklist, which you can use as a template to consider the multiple domestic and foreign compliance issues that might apply to your distance-learning course.


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