To study nucleocytoplasmic transport during multicellular development, we developed a sensitive nuclear protein import assay in living blastoderm embryos. We show that dominant negative truncations of the human nuclear transport receptor karyopherinbeta/Importinbeta (DNImpbeta) disrupt mRNA export and protein import in Drosophila. To test the sensitivity of different developmental processes to nuclear trafficking perturbations, we expressed DNImpbeta behind the morphogenetic furrow of the eye disc, at a time when photoreceptors are patterned and project their axons to the brain. DNImpbeta expression does not disrupt the correct specification of different photoreceptors, but causes a defect in cell adhesion that leads to some photoreceptors descending below the layer of ommatidia. The photoreceptors initially project their axons correctly to the posterior, but later their axons are unable to enter the optic stalk en route to the brain and continue to project an extensive network of misguided axons. The axon guidance and cell adhesion defects are both due to a disruption in the function of Ketel, the Drosophila ortholog of Importinbeta. We conclude that cell adhesion and axon guidance in the eye have specific requirements for nucleocytoplasmic transport, despite involving processes that occur primarily at the cell surface.