SEOUL, South Korea – U.S. President Donald Trump’s new restrictions on visitors from several nations are largely symbolic in North Korea’s case, because not many of its citizens visit the United States.
North Korea’s authoritarian government doesn’t allow most of its 24 million people to travel abroad, except in special cases such as for jobs that bring in foreign currency or participation in sporting events. North Korea has tens of thousands of workers abroad, but none are believed to be in the United States.
Reports say there is a dwindling number of North Koreans visiting the United States amid the standoff over the North’s nuclear and missile programs.
“It’s a symbolic measure,” Hong Min, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said of including North Korea in the latest U.S. immigration restrictions. “North Korea won’t probably make any response.”
According a report last month by broadcaster Voice of America, the United States issued 100 visas to North Koreans last year. VOA, citing its analysis of visa records, said 52 of them were business or tourist visas while the rest were diplomats. From March to June this year, the U.S. issued 18 visas to North Koreans, according to the report.
The figures were a sharp decrease from the period of 1997-2001, when more than 1,200 North Koreans acquired business or tourist visas each year, VOA said.
The broadcaster said there’s no record of the whereabouts or activities in the United States of those on business or tourism visas. North Korean government officials are based at the country’s diplomatic mission to the United Nations in New York.
In addition to North Korea, Trump’s presidential proclamation, signed Sunday, places indefinite restrictions on citizens of Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. The U.S. will also bar the entry of certain Venezuelan government officials and their immediate families. The changes are to take effect Oct. 18.
The U.S. ban came on the day that Trump’s temporary ban on visitors from six Muslim-majority countries was set to expire, 90 days after it went into effect. The inclusion of Venezuela and North Korea appeared to be an attempt to block challenges from advocacy groups and others who have called the restrictions a ban on Muslims.
The suspension of immigrant and non-immigrant visas for North Koreans comes amid an escalating war of words between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Last week, Kim called Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” in response to Trump’s threats to “totally destroy” the North. Trump later said Kim is “obviously a madman who doesn’t mind starving or killing his people.”
North Korea last month described the outgoing ban as a measure that revealed “American ferocity, lack of judgment and extreme recklessness.” But as of late Monday, the country’s state media hadn’t made any comments on the new ban.
The United States and North Korea don’t have diplomatic relations because they remain technically in a state of war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty. Starting Sept. 1, the Trump administration has barred Americans from travelling to the North, after a U.S. student was sent home in a coma and later died after more than a year in detention in the North.