The United States imposes embargoes against several countries, including most prominently Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Burma. These sanctions programs, administered by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), are very broad and essentially prohibit any business dealings by U.S. persons and organizations with those countries, though the Cuban sanctions are the most restrictive. There is, however, a general exception under the law for transmission of information, which applies to many nonprofit organization and association activities.
First, it is important to recognize that the Cuban sanctions are very broad and do not allow U.S. nonprofit organizations or associations to do business in Cuba, or to enroll members from Cuba, accept dues payments from Cuban nationals, sell or distribute publications to Cuba, permit those in Cuba to participate in the production of scholarly articles and publications, or become certified. Further, the Cuba sanctions also prevent certification of a Cuban national even if he or she is not in Cuba.
Putting aside the Cuban rules, the general approach for the other embargoed countries is this: OFAC has issued rulings providing that U.S. nonprofit organizations and associations may enroll members from embargoed countries (other than Cuba), accept dues payments from in-country members, sell and distribute publications into those countries, and allow those in embargoed countries to participate in the production of scholarly articles and publications. These are all considered permissible for purposes of the U.S. sanctions programs applicable to those embargoed countries.
However, it is not permissible for a U.S. organization to provide services to the embargoed countries. Significantly, OFAC considers professional certification to be a service. Thus, as a general rule, people in an embargoed country may not take certification exams or be credentialed by a U.S. organization
However, nationals of an embargoed country who are outside the country may hold a U.S. certification. It would be permissible, for example, for certificants who are Iranian nationals but outside Iran to hold a U.S. credential. They can also permissibly pay renewal fees and take renewal exams, again as long as they are not in the embargoed country when the fees are paid or the exam is taken.
If a national of an embargoed country obtains certification while outside the country, then returns to the country, there is no need to rescind the person’s certification. Recertification by examination can also be an issue. If the required renewal exam is administered outside the embargoed country, that would be permissible. It would be a problem, however, under the sanctions if recertification or exam fees were paid from inside the embargoed country or by/through a person or bank on the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list.
In sum, with the exception of Cuba, nationals of an embargoed country may take a professional certification exam and hold the credential as long as they were outside the embargoed country when the exam was administered and the credential was granted. They may pay for the exam/certification using funds from outside the embargoed country, but not from within the embargoed country or an SDN bank.
If payment is a problem, under certain circumstances it may be possible to waive the fees or obtain a license from OFAC to make a special exception to authorize payment.
This is a very sensitive area, however, and extreme caution and particular legal review are advisable.