The debate follows the death of Otto Warmbier.
The White House is reportedly considering a ban on travel to North Korea for all U.S. citizens following the death of Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old American college student who was held prisoner in the isolated nation for 17 months.
As USA Today reported, more than 800 Americans travel to North Korea each year with various tourism groups that often tout the trips as a safe adventure.
“The North Koreans lure Americans to travel to North Korea via tour groups, run out of China, who advertise slick ads on the internet proclaiming, ‘No American ever gets detained on our tours,’ and, ‘This is a safe place to go,’” Fred Warmbier, Otto’s father, said at a press conference following his son’s release.
And the trips, Vox reported, are often well within reach financially for American tourists. The Young Pioneer Tours, which is the travel group Warmbier used, will take American tourists to the secretive country for just $1,052.
However, all that may soon come to a screeching halt. Following Warmbier’s release and subsequent death, the Foreign Affairs Committee released a statement written by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce saying in part, “Otto’s father is right: travel propaganda lures far too many people to North Korea. This is a regime that regularly kidnaps foreign citizens and keeps 120,000 North Koreans in barbaric gulags. The United States should ban tourist travel to North Korea.”
Moreover, in May, Reps. Adam B. Schiff (D-CA) and Joe Wilson (R-SC) introduced a bill titled the North Korea Travel Control Act to the House of Representatives. If passed the bill would officially ban all tourist travel for Americans to North Korea, Vox reported. Additionally, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also told a House committee last week, “We have been evaluating whether we should put some type of travel visa restriction to North Korea. We haven’t come to a final conclusion, but we are considering it.”
Today, three Americans are still being held in North Korea, USA Today reported, and at least 16 Americans have been detained by North Korea in the past 10 years. Of Warmbier’s imprisonment President Donald Trump said in a statement from the Oval Office, "It's a total disgrace what happened to Otto. That should never ever be allowed to happen.”
For now tourism remains open for Americans willing to put their lives at risk, but the State Department does have a stark warning for anyone willing to take that chance. Its travel warning reads, “The Department of State strongly warns U.S. citizens not to travel to North Korea/the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). U.S. citizens in the DPRK are at serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement.” It also notes that the United States does not maintain diplomatic or consular relations with North Korea, thus there will be no means to provide normal consular services to U.S. citizens in North Korea.