The Slatest

U.S. to Ban Citizens From Travel to North Korea

Participants prepre for a mass dance event  part of celebrations marking the July 4 launch of the Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile, in Pyongyang on July 6, 2017.

AFP/Getty Images

The Trump administration is planning to ban Americans from visiting North Korea, according to U.S. officials and two tour groups that specialize in travel to the isolated dictatorship. The ban reportedly will be announced Thursday and go into effect 30 days later, though the U.S. government has not confirmed this yet.

[Update 11:45 a.m. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert has confirmed the new policy, saying in a statement. “Due to mounting concerns over the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement, the Secretary has authorized a Geographical Travel Restriction on all U.S. citizen nationals’ use of a passport to travel in, through, or to North Korea.” A notice of the ban will be published in the Federal Register next week.] 

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The move had been expected since the death of Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student who was arrested by North Korean authorities and charged with stealing a propaganda poster in 2016 while on a tour organized by one of the companies, China-based Young Pioneer Tours. Warmbier was in a coma when he was released and flown back to the United States in June, dying six days later.

Warmbier’s death prompted several members of Congress to push for legislation banning travel to the country, arguing that tourism brings revenue to the regime and that Americans like Warmbier could be arrested and used as hostages to prompt U.S. concessions. Three American citizens are currently in North Korean custody, though none of them entered as tourists.

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The AP notes that the secretary of state has the authority to bar U.S. passports from being used to travel to certain countries, but this is pretty rare. The U.S. has previously instituted bans on U.S. citizens travelling to a number of countries including Lebanon, Libya, and Iraq, but none is currently in place. So while the State Department strongly advises Americans against travel to a number of countries, there’s nothing legally stopping you from traveling to places Iran, Syria, or Yemen. Restrictions of a totally different sort forbid private tourism to Cuba, a ban that was recently tightened by the Trump administration after being loosened under Obama.

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