22

I'm from The Netherlands and travelled to the US (Los Angeles) last summer under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP/ESTA).

I plan to visit Los Angeles again this summer.

The ESTA I have is valid for 2 years and will still be valid on arrival. However if I were to apply for an ESTA today it will be denied. That is because I have visited North Korea last month.

The Visa Waiver Program states that:

Travelers in the following categories are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):

Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country). Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan, or Syria.

If I travel to LA today, do I need to apply for a visa or can I travel on the approved ESTA? In fact. North Korea does not stamp the passport so it's not obvious that I visited the country. The only way they can see is by looking at the entry stamp from China. The chinese city bordering North Korea, Dandong, is written in Chinese on the entry stamp.

| improve this question | | | | |
44

You are not eligible and need to apply for a visa. As the document you quote states, people who have traveled to North Korea after March 1, 2011 (with exceptions that presumably do not apply in your case) are no longer eligible to be admitted under the Visa Waiver Program. This is the case whether or not your ESTA is valid; you're seeking to be admitted under the VWP when you arrive in the US. The FAQ explains this as well:

The restrictions do not bar travel to the United States, but they do require a traveler covered by the restrictions in the law to obtain a visa from a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Most U.S. Embassies and Consulates in VWP partner countries and worldwide have short wait times for visa interviews. Please visit travel.state.gov for general visa information or usembassy.gov to find the website of the Embassy that has jurisdiction over your residence.

There's no mention of an exception if you already have an approved ESTA. The end of your question boils down to "could I try it anyway and get away with it?" I have no idea, but nobody would sensibly advise you to knowingly violate immigration law. Getting a visa is a hassle and expensive, but it usually lasts for 10 years and offers some advantages (you can stay in the US for 6 months at a time and even apply to extend your stay longer than that, which you can't do under the VWP).

| improve this answer | | | | |
  • 4
    I did not know a US visa was valid for 10 years. That makes me accept the fact I have to fill out a visa a little bit more – Jordi Kroon Jan 17 at 0:07
  • 10
    @JordiKroon the duration of a US visa actually depends on the visa type and on the nationality of the visa applicant. A B visa is valid for ten years for citizens of many countries, including the Netherlands, but not for everyone. – phoog Jan 17 at 5:05
  • 2
    @Jordi Kroon You can see the US Visa Reciprocity Schedule for The Netherlands here travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/… – Traveller Jan 17 at 9:22
  • 1
    @phoog and for some, like Poland, it was "up to 10 years" and could be issued for shorter times. – Mołot Jan 17 at 14:13
  • 3
    @phoog don't know about always, just wanted OP to be aware that it might be shorter and he should read the fine print before he'll start to be happy about 10 years. If it is indeed always the case, this answer should be changed from "it lasts for 10 years" to "it lasts for up to 10 years" – Mołot Jan 17 at 14:19
23

I was in your exact situation: valid ESTA, but because I travelled to North Korea in 2014, I was caught by this rule change. Like you, I found it ambiguous: it was not clear to me if existing ESTAs were suddenly invalid, or only future applications.

I played it safe and got a visa from the London embassy. I was merely asked if I had been there for tourism purposes (yes) and if I had been to any other countries on a "high-risk" list (no). There was no hostile questioning whatsoever, and my visa arrived within a few days.

The waiting time for a visa appointment was long, but I successfully requested an expedited appointment by pointing out that my reason for needing the visa was a US rule change. I waited about 3-4 weeks for the appointment. The consular lady confirmed that getting a visa was the right course of action.

Like you, however, I have no stamp to say I've been, making me question whether it was worth it. I decided that lying to US federal authorities is typically an exceptionally bad idea ("have you ever been to North Korea?" - "No"). The action I took gave me peace of mind. Upon travelling to the US with my visa, the CBP officer more or less waved me through.

| improve this answer | | | | |
  • 1
    "have you ever been to North Korea?" - "No" If a traveller gets asked such a specific question, then, rest assure they know he has been there. Indeed, couldn't agree more about the bit of " lying to US federal authorities is typically an exceptionally bad idea " – Quora Feans Jan 19 at 14:36
  • 1
    @QuoraFeans Agreed; I was more thinking of that question appearing on a form, such as the type one may have to fill out upon landing. (There are no landing cards now, but some ports of entry have electronic kiosks that ask you questions like "do you have more than $10k cash on you", "have you ever been to Yemen", etc.) If one were to lie on the form, it creates documented evidence of the lie that could be used against you later. Lying when asked verbally is also likely to have poor results, particularly as CBP officers are likely adept at telling when someone is being dishonest. – 3dbrows Jan 19 at 17:53
  • It might make you feel better about having told the truth to know the consequences that you would have faced had you been caught in a lie. One of the statutory grounds of inadmissibility is having used deception to obtain an immigration benefit. Ever. That means that once you've been found out, you are permanently inadmissible to the US unless you can get a discretionary waiver or go to court to have the finding of deception overturned. So it's really not a good idea to lie on US application forms. As to landing cards: I'm pretty sure they still existed the last time I flew to the US. – phoog Jan 24 at 5:21
18

On a Norwegian version of Flyertalk, someone reported seeing the CBP's computer screen (mis-angled) showing a list of "high-risk" countries they had been to, on previous passports, without having flown between these countries and the US.

So it is not unlikely they will know you've been to North Korea. In other words, I would not risk it if I were you. Get a visa!

| improve this answer | | | | |
  • 5
    yea... lets not forget that Europe and many other countries signed contracts to hand flight data over to Homeland Security of U.S.A – eagle275 Jan 17 at 7:49
  • 2
    @eagle275 Unless the Chinese have such a contract with the US, that doesn't look relevant. After all, there are no direct connections from Europe to DPRK (not counting Russia). – Mast Jan 17 at 8:57
  • 2
    for obvious reasons I mentioned Europe because I know about them having signed said contract - I don't know what other methods exist that enabled "them knowing" – eagle275 Jan 17 at 9:04
-5

In the Netherlands you are allowed to request a second passport specifically for the purpose of entering a country that has "issues" with another country you have visited. Maybe this also applies to this case, and would allow you to apply for a second ESTA? https://www.netherlandsworldwide.nl/living-working/passport-and-identity-card/second-passport

| improve this answer | | | | |
  • 14
    The right to enter the US under the VWP does not follow the passport, but the person holding the passport, so if the person (like the OP) in this case is ineligible to use the VWP, it doesn't matter what his passport says or don't. – Henrik supports the community Jan 17 at 11:21
  • 1
    Applying for a second ESTA wouldn't help. The issue is that the OP is not admissible under the VWP, not that there's anything wrong with their ESTA. Also, while not every country would necessarily know that the OP has two passports, the USA most likely would, due to immigration and intelligence information-sharing agreements between the USA and much of Europe. – reirab Jan 17 at 11:58
  • 1
    It is kind of amazing that NL will let you have a second passport for the express purpose of trying to get around the entry restrictions of other countries, though! – Carcer Jan 17 at 12:01
  • 10
    @Carcer That is common practice by many countries. Even the US will issue you a second passport explicitly for the purpose of circumventing foreign immigration restrictions. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Jan 17 at 12:22
  • Even if this is a workaround that doesn't get you in trouble, North Korea is not on the list of countries in conflict in NL. Therefor the government won't give you a second passport. – Jordi Kroon Jan 17 at 12:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.