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I would like to travel to North Korea as part of a 30-day Asia trip (once in a lifetime). I know it is not recommended. I know all of the issues. I have just been obsessed with this country for some time due to its Orwellian nature. I am able to travel to it from Beijing using my Canadian passport.

I am in school for nursing. I want to receive a work visa to work in the USA and then eventually become a dual American/Canadian citizen. However, I know that the U.S.A. has banned all travel to North Korea with a USA passport and largely does not want anyone to travel to North Korea. Will this affect my chances of becoming an American citizen? Or an easier question, how do I just contact US immigration to answer a question like this?

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    Rules seem to change a lot depending on how friendly North Korea is being, so it's going to be hard to make a future prediction. US rules are also time-limited (no visa-free entry if you've been there in 8 years), so timescales will play a part. I'd be surprised if it's an automatic ban on any visa, but there is a risk of a negative impact. The US and Canada share some immigration data, so it might not be possible to lie about your trip - although less is shared on Canadian citizens than foreigners.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 9 at 16:59
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    Note that should you visit North Korea, your passport won't be stamped: everything is on separate sheets of paper. As far as the US government is concerned, you've been to China (twice, leaving Beijing to go... somewhere, and coming back).
    – dda
    Jan 9 at 23:02
  • If you're interested in more than the standard 5-day Pyongyang loop, you could consider a hiking tour to see some pristine mountains and remote villages: hikekorea.com/north-korea, north-korea-travel.com/kumgangsan.html
    – user141552
    Jan 10 at 1:21
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    @StuartF : and it might also depend heavily on who wins the next USA election, so one can expect such things to change every 4 years.
    – vsz
    Jan 10 at 5:44
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    I know it is not recommended. I know all of the issues. I have just been obsessed with this country for some time due to its Orwellian nature - friendly advice from someone who had to travel multiple times to, say, complicated countries: rethink it. I believe (apologies if I am wrong) that you do not fully realize what it means to have a problem in a country such as NK in troubled times such as the ones now.
    – WoJ
    Jan 11 at 15:02

2 Answers 2

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There is no objective rule in statute or regulations that your visit to North Korea will have any effect on your entry to the US as a Canadian citizen. There is no ban based on having visited North Korea.

People who have visited certain countries (including North Korea) after 2011 are ineligible to use the Visa Waiver Program, but that is irrelevant as Canada is not part of the Visa Waiver Program. The ability of Canadian citizens to visit the US on most nonimmigrant statuses without a visa, including visitor, student, worker statuses, etc. (unlike the VWP which only allows visitor status), is provided by separate regulations, namely 22 CFR 41.2(a) and 8 CFR 212.1(a)(1), and they are unaffected by a visit to North Korea.

Of course, a visit to North Korea, as well as any other things in your history, can affect the subjective determination of whether to let you in to the US by the immigration officer at entry. Immigration officers have wide discretion to deny entry for most nonimmigrant statuses on the generic reason of "failure to overcome the presumption of immigrant intent".

As for immigrating to the US (i.e. getting a green card) and naturalizing to become a US citizen, there is again no objective rule that having visited North Korea has any effect, but you can expect to be questioned about it in interviews.

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I haven't been able to find any direct evidence, so this is a bit of me reading between the lines.

From the Visa Waiver site it states that people who would normally use the VWP, but have been to North Korea since 2011 can no longer use the VWP and must instead apply for a business or tourist visa.

Under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, travelers in the following categories must obtain a visa prior to traveling to the United States as they are no longer eligible to travel under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):

  • Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia,
    Sudan, Syria, or 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 have traveled to or been present in Cuba on or after January 12, 2021 (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 Cuba, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.

This means that simply traveling to NK does not automatically ban you from coming to the US.

However, Canadians don't use the VWP to enter the US (except for corner cases like are meeting family in the US), but I haven't been able to find out what that means for a CA citizen being a tourist in NK, but I guess that it also means applying for a visa.

But .... You mentioned coming to the US for work. That will mean you have to apply for a non-tourist/non-business visa which probably puts you in the same boat as VWP who have visited NK.

So while you will be scrutinized for your trips, I don't see it as an automatic failure to have visited NK.

Finally, NK doesn't allow independent tourism in the first place, so you will have to be a part of an organized tour group in order to visit NK.

But (there are always buts), this Australian government site says that tours to NK have been suspended:

  • You can only travel on an official tour. An official guide must always accompany you. Charges for travel can be high, including for taxis, guides, tolls and permits.
  • Tours have been suspended until further notice. If it becomes safe to travel to North Korea, you'll probably have to travel via Beijing. Get a double-or multiple-entry visa for China. Otherwise, you won't be able to re-enter China when you leave North Korea. Contact the Embassy or Consulate of the People's Republic of China for details.

I have no idea how true the suspension is, but this random NK tour site says:

NOTICE: The North Korea border is currently closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Please check COVID-19 & North Korea for updated information.

N0 Tours to North Korea (DPRK) will be taking place until the border is open again - the tours below are planned departure dates but until the country is open to tourists again all tours will remain suspended

(gotta love the N0 typo, that's a zero, not the letter "O"! That was them, and not me.)

And for fun, here is the CA travel advice to NK (which you probably already know about):

NORTH KOREA - AVOID ALL TRAVEL

Avoid all travel to North Korea due to the uncertain security situation caused by its nuclear weapons development program and highly repressive regime.

There is no resident Canadian government office in the country. The ability of Canadian officials to provide consular assistance in North Korea is extremely limited.

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    but I guess that it also means applying for a visa => the ban only affects VWP applicants, not Canadians, so there's no consequences at all for a Canadian visiting NK.
    – JonathanReez
    Jan 9 at 18:11
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    "You mentioned coming to the US for work. That will mean you have to apply for a non-tourist/non-business visa" No, they will not have to apply for a visa. Canadian citizens do not need a visa to enter the US on all nonimmigrant statuses except E, K, V, or S. See 9 FAM 201.1-3(B).a.
    – user102008
    Jan 9 at 18:22
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    I don't know if its a loophole per se but that's just how it is: Canadians are not affected...
    – JonathanReez
    Jan 9 at 18:46
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    @PeterM: "I don't think that what you referred to is relevant to working permanently in the US" Yes, it is relevant. Work statuses like TN, H1b, O1, L1, etc. are all nonimmigrant statuses, for which Canadian citizens do not need a visa to enter the US. The only potentially work-related status that a Canadian citizen could need a visa for is E treaty trader status.
    – user102008
    Jan 9 at 19:20
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    @user102008 for some reason the state department also includes A, G, and NATO visas on this page: travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/tourism-visit/…
    – phoog
    Jan 10 at 11:59

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