Technology Alert List-Office of International Education - Carnegie Mellon University

Technology Alert List

If your field of study or research might be considered a "sensitive" field that has direct or indirect military application(s), you should read and understand the information related to the Technology Alert List (TAL) IF you will be applying for a new visa at a US consulate overseas. Application of the TAL during the visa application process will lead to a security check, and inherent delays in obtaining the US visa. However, not all visa applicants are subject to the TAL.

You may read the TAL handout for students and scholar (.pdf) and/or discuss your specific situation with your OIE advisor during a scheduled appointment.

Technology Alert List Information for Department Advisors and Supervisors

What is the Technology Alert List?

As a matter of US policy, the Technology Alert List (TAL) was created by the US federal government in 2000 as a guideline for consular officials to use in reviewing visa applications. The purpose of this guideline is to prevent the export of "goods, technology, or sensitive information" through activities such as "graduate-level studies, teaching, conducting research, participating in exchange programs, receiving training or employment..." As we understand it, they are screening for illegal technology transfer and a possible undesired military application. Not surprisingly, there are many research fields on the TAL that reflect research that is conducted at CMU. Primarily, these fields would be: chemical and biotechnology engineering, materials technology, information security, robotics, remote sensing and imaging technology, advance computer /microelectronic technology, sensors and sensor technology, and urban planning (including architecture, design and civil engineering).

Due to security concerns, the actual TAL is classified. General information may be found on the State Department's website. Departments may also wish to reference OIE's handout on the Technology Alert Lis (.pdf).

Why are we hearing about the TAL now?

In the past several years, OIE advisors have seen a sharp increase in the number of visa applications that are being scrutinized for relevance to TAL and delayed as a result. From our experience at Carnegie Mellon, most of these applicants are from China, although students and scholars from other countries including Russia and Spain have been impacted. TAL may be applied to applicants from any country (including traditional US allies). But, students and scholars from the five "state sponsors of terrorism" (Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria) and the five "non-proliferation export control countries" (China, India, Israel, Pakistan, and Russia) seem most likely to be impacted.

How does the visa and TAL process work?

When a student or scholar applies for a visa, the Consular Official must make a decision about whether the research area fits within one of the categories of the TAL. If the Consular Official is unsure about whether the research area fits into the category, he/she may decide to send the visa application to Washington for review. The process ranges from 3-4 weeks to a few months in some cases.

What can the CMU Department do to help students and scholars avoid problems?

Because the TAL addresses categories of research that are considered to be "sensitive," the academic advisor who will supervise the student's or scholar's research is in the best position to explain the nature of the research and relevance (or not) to the TAL categories. An advisor or supervisor of a current or prospective graduate student or scholar who must apply for a US visa abroad may write a letter addressing the TAL issue in support of the visa application of the student's or scholar's visa interview.

Research not related to TAL:  An effective support letter will directly address the TAL issue and clearly illustrate how the research is not related to sensitive areas listed in TAL. Address the letter to "Dear Consular Officer," and explain the nature of the student or scholar's research in layman's terms. You should not use complex or overly-technical language. If the nature of the research is theoretical, this should be clearly stated. If the research is applied, the application should be explained. An advisor uses TAL categories to offer an informed opinion as to whether the research fits, or not. This letter should be addressed to the appropriate consulate. Contact information is available on the US Department of State website.

Research related to TAL:  For those research areas which are directly related to activities listed on the TAL, students and scholars may be general (but always truthful) about the nature of the research. In the event that the US consular officer targets the application for review, a wait of several months is likely inevitable while the case is checked in Washington, DC. Students and scholars who study "sensitive" areas and are from one of the "non-proliferation export control countries" (China, India, Israel, Pakistan, and Russia) in particular may consider delaying or postponing any discretionary international travel when a new visa is required. If travel is unavoidable and a new visa is necessary, supervisors should be prepared for the possibility of a long delay preventing the student or scholar's timely return to the US.

What can be done once the application is sent to Washington?

Once a student or scholar's application is sent to Washington for review, there is little that can be done, except to inform OIE and to wait. Many clearances are processed within 30 days.  While that seems to be the case, some clearances have taken 2-3 months or longer.  OIE recommends that students and scholars notify OIE of security clearance delays and that concerned advisors or supervisors consult with OIE before seeking outside help. An advisor or supervisor may wish to contact a US Congressional representative for assistance. However, even with congressional intervention, the perception of national security needs may outweigh the advisor or department's concern about delayed arrival of a student or researcher. CMU's Office of Government Relations can provide contact information, and it is always a good idea to inform them of actions involving Congressional representatives.

What can the Office of International Education do to help?

The Office of International Education can help to determine whether the visa delay stems from the TAL or another issue. If it is determined that the TAL is the reason for the delay, OIE unfortunately can not facilitate or speed up the processing of the visa application, for the reasons stated in this handout. OIE can review letters and provide updated information that becomes available about this process. Please contact the OIE Advisor responsible for your department by calling or emailing OIE.

Updated:  January 10, 2017