Journalists, aid workers and individuals heading to North Korea to represent U.S. national interests will be exempt from an upcoming travel ban, according to a preview of a notice set for publication tomorrow in the Federal Register.
The restriction on travel is set to begin on September 1, 30 days after its publication, and will declare U.S. passports invalid for travel to North Korea unless they qualify for an exemption.
“The Department of State has determined that the serious risk to United States nationals of arrest and long-term detention represents imminent danger to the physical safety of United States nationals traveling to and within the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” the notice reads.
The notice cites Executive Order 11295 and Title 22 of the U.S. Code of Laws as legal justification for the new measures, which will prevent U.S. citizens from visiting the DPRK as tourists.
Title 22 allows the Secretary of State to limit U.S. citizens from traveling to war zones, or areas where there is an imminent danger to “public health or the physical safety of United States travelers.”
“This action is overdue as the Kim regime has used American citizens as bargaining chips in its standoff with the United States,” Anthony Ruggiero, a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies told NK News.
“North Korea could detain reporters or those on a humanitarian mission, but overall the travel ban should reduce the number of Americans traveling to North Korea.”
North Korea has arrested and detained U.S. nationals in the past, sometimes using the detainees to leverage visits from high-level U.S. officials like former President Bill Clinton.
Most recently, North Korea returned American citizen Otto Warmbier to the U.S. in a coma after more than a year of captivity.
Warmbier died shortly after his return, leading to calls to ban tourism to the DPRK.
There are currently still three U.S. citizens in detention in North Korea. Two of them – Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song – were affiliated with the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST).
Working at the university does not appear to be covered by the exemptions to the ban, indicating U.S. nationals will no longer be able to teach there.
“PUST would have to apply for the special validation, but the last two Americans taken by North Korea worked at PUST and tough to make the case that continuing the school is in U.S. national interest,” Ruggiero added.
Edited by Oliver Hotham