Game of Lists: OFAC SDN List vs. BIS Lists

A lot of time folks dealing with import-export compliance issues get confused by the lists; namely, the List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN List) administered by the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the Proscribed Persons Lists administered by the Bureau of Industry and Security at the U.S. Department of Commerce which is comprised of the Entity List and the Denied Person’s List. The following should offer some insight into the differences between these lists and why you need to know about all of them if you are planning to import or export internationally.

The OFAC SDN List is a list of over 6,000 persons and entities that have been blocked pursuant to any number of U.S. economic sanctions programs. What this means is that the assets of any person, be it an individual or an entity, appearing on this list which is subject to U.S. jurisdiction is to immediately be blocked and U.S. persons are prohibited in engaging in almost all types of transactions with them. This list is updated frequently and also includes individuals, entities, vessels, and banks all over the world who are owned, controlled by, or acting on behalf of targeted governments or groups.

On the other hand, the two BIS Lists are quite different. For example, the BIS Entity List imposes upon foreign persons license requirements supplemental to those found elsewhere in the Export Administration Regulations (EAR). The export, reexport, or transfer of an item to a party on this list without a license required by the Entity List is a violation of the EAR.

The BIS Denied Persons List differs even from the Entity List because it can target both U.S. and foreign persons, and imposes strict licensing requirements which typically come with a presumption of denial. Parties are added to this list by issuance of a Temporary or Permanent Denial Order, and the export, reexport, or transfer of an item to a party on this list constitutes a violation of the EAR.

Despite their differences, these lists have one thing in common: an administrative reconsideration process. While those processes differ, there at least is a way to be removed from these lists if one was so inclined and willing to undergo the process.

The author of this blog is Erich Ferrari, an attorney specializing in OFAC matters. If you have any questions please contact him at 202-280-6370 or

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