Trips to North Korea change visa-free status

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Trips to North Korea change visa-free status

Any South Korean who visited North Korea after March 2011 will no longer be able to visit the United States visa-free, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The U.S. government said it is putting new restrictions on its Visa Waiver Program, or VWP, for citizens of 38 countries including South Korea who have visited Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia or North Korea.

Under the VWP, South Korean citizens are eligible to visit the United States visa-free for up to 90 days as long as they register through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization at least three days in advance.

This is no longer an option for South Koreans - or citizens of the other 37 countries - who have visited the North. While they will be allowed to visit the U.S., they will have to obtain a visa from a U.S. consular office.

According to Seoul’s Foreign Ministry, around 37,000 South Koreans have visited the North at least once since March 1, 2011 and could be affected. Civil servants who visited the North for official purposes are exempt from the change, the ministry said, though they will need to provide documentation proving the official reason for their visit to North Korea when going through U.S. customs.

Both the Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Unification added Seoul would do its best to provide administrative assistance to travelers to minimize the inconvenience posed by this revision.

While it is not exactly known why Washington is strengthening the restrictions, the U.S. State Department told Yonhap News that the measure followed U.S. President Donald Trump’s re-designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism in 2017.

After being on the list for two decades since 1988, North Korea was removed as a state sponsor of terrorism by former U.S. President George W. Bush as part of a deal in which the North agreed to scrap its nuclear program starting with the high-profile demolition of a cooling plant at Yongbyon.

Despite reneging on that nuclear deal, testing many new weapons like intercontinental ballistic missiles and later engaging in acts of military aggression towards South Korea, the North managed to remain off Washington’s terrorism list for almost a decade.

It took a series of events in 2017, including the alleged murder of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s older half-brother Kim Jong-nam by Pyongyang-hired assassins armed with a nerve agent and the death of Otto Warmbier, a U.S. citizen who died after months in prison in the country, that eventually led to Trump re-listing the country in November 2017.

Relations between Washington and Pyongyang have improved significantly since, with Trump habitually proclaiming Kim Jong-un his friend, but nuclear talks have yet to resume after they collapsed in the pair’s last summit in February.

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