US makes exceptions for North Korea travel ban

The State Department has announced it will allow four categories of Americans to apply for an exemption after it bans most citizens from traveling to North Korea next month.

The ban will go into effect on September 1 and makes it a felony to use an American passport to travel to the country.

The ban comes after American student Otto Warmbier was arrested and imprisoned for 17 months in North Korea, during which time he went into a coma. Wambier died on June 19, shortly after returning to the U.S.

The four categories of people exempt from the ban are journalists traveling to cover North Korea, American Red Cross or International Committee of the Red Cross employees on official business, other aid workers with “compelling humanitarian considerations,” and anyone else whose trip “is otherwise in the national interest.”

Waivers would be valid for one round trip to the country. The State Department estimates 100 people will apply for one.

The agency posted its official notice in the Federal Register today, which means that there are now 21 days for the public to comment on it and 30 days until it is implemented.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced the ban on July 21 amid heightened concerns about Americans’ safety in the country following Wambier’s death.

Warmbier was a 21-year-old University of Virginia student who was arrested in North Korea in January 2016 while visiting the country as part of a tour group. At some point during his imprisonment, he went into a coma, but it is still unclear what caused him to do so. He was evacuated by U.S. officials but died days after returning home. His case has provoked outrage and concern about other Americans’ safety.

North Korea is known to be holding at least three other Americans, two of whom were working at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology when they were detained this spring.

There are currently a few dozen American citizens who work at the institution, which is the country’s only private university and whose staff includes 60 to 80 foreigners throughout the academic year.

It’s unclear if those Americans will be permitted to continue working in North Korea, but some are dual nationals who could potentially travel using their other passports. The State Department specified in its notice that “use of a U.S. passport” will be invalid.

Somewhere between 800 and 1,250 Americans visit North Korea each year, although that number is expected to decline sharply this year following…

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