US Ban on Travel to North Korea Takes Effect on Sept. 1

August 31, 2017 Updated: August 31, 2017

BEIJING—The U.S. State Department ban on travel to North Korea will take effect on Friday September 1.

The United States last month announced a ban on U.S. passport holders from traveling to North Korea, effective September. 1. Journalists and humanitarian workers are allowed to apply for exemptions under the ban, which is similar to previous U.S. restrictions on travel to Iraq and Libya.

Heidi Linton, director of Christian Friends of Korea, who has been working in North Korea for more than 20 years, told reporters she worried about the people her aid group helped, if her exemption was not granted soon.

“We started a hepatitis B program and we have 705 patients that have been started on life-saving medicine, that if they go off that medicine then their lives are in danger,” she said.

It was not immediately clear how many Americans had sought, or been granted, exemptions or how many were still in North Korea. An official at the state department said it was not able to give an estimate on the number of U.S. citizens there.

Pressure Grows

North Korea is under growing international pressure over its nuclear tests and repeated ballistic missile launches, including one this week that flew over northern Japan.

A missile is launched during a long and medium-range ballistic rocket launch drill in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on Aug. 30, 2017.  (KCNA/via REUTERS)
A missile is launched during a long and medium-range ballistic rocket launch drill in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on Aug. 30, 2017. (KCNA/via REUTERS)

The U.S. ban on travel to North Korea followed the death of U.S. college student Otto Warmbier, who was jailed during a tour last year.

Warmbier, who was sentenced to 15 years hard labor for trying to steal a propaganda sign, was returned to the United States in a coma in June and died six days later. The circumstances surrounding his death are not clear, including why he fell into a coma.

Warmbier had been detained leaving the airport in Pyongyang.

FILE PHOTO - Otto Frederick Warmbier (C), a University of Virginia student who was detained in North Korea since early January, is taken to North Korea's top court in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo on March 16, 2016. (Mandatory credit REUTERS/Kyodo)
FILE PHOTO – Otto Frederick Warmbier (C), a University of Virginia student who was detained in North Korea since early January, is taken to North Korea’s top court in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo on March 16, 2016. (Mandatory credit REUTERS/Kyodo)

The State Department declared U.S. passports invalid for travel to, in or through North Korea. The restriction applies for one year unless extended or revoked by the secretary of state.

North Korea is currently holding two Korean-American academics and a missionary, as well as three South Korean nationals who were doing missionary work.

Hundreds of Americans are among the 4,000 to 5,000 Western tourists who visit North Korea annually, according to U.S. lawmaker Joe Wilson.

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By Christian Shepherd