Malaysia ends visa-free policy for North Koreans

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The Malaysian government scrapped the visa-free entry agreement for North Koreans after the deadly attack on North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother Kim jong-nam in Kuala Lumpur on February 13. Visitors from North Korea to Malaysia will be required to apply for visas, effective March 6.

The move, meant as a security measure, ends a unique agreement between the two countries that allowed Malaysian passport-holders to travel to North Korea without a visa, and vice versa, which made Malaysian passport holders the only ones to be allowed to enter North Korea visa-free. Singapore ended a similar reciprocal agreement last year.

According to Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the decision to scrap the agreement has been made “after taking into account recent developments involving citizens of that country.”

Both countries used to have a good relationship until recently. On February 11, two days ahead of the Kim Jong-nam murder, both countries entered a cultural exchange cooperation. Other ties have been built in the trade and health sector in the past. 

The reciprocal visa deal was introduced in the early 1970 when former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad embraced the isolated state, in part to rebuff the US. Since then, North Korea and Malaysia had relatively busy bilateral trade, and Malaysia was some sort of “window” to the outside world for Pyongyang.

But since the bizarre attack on Kuala Lumpur’s international airport believed to be orchestrated by North Korea’s secret service, diplomatic relations between Malaysia and North Korea got more strained by the day.

North Korea officially denied any involvement in the attack. The national news agency KCNA said the assassination was a “conspiracy by the US and its allies to bring down socialism in North Korea,” and North Korea’s ambassador to Malaysia instead said investigators were conspiring with “hostile forces” – read South Korea. In retaliation, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak described the statement as “diplomatically rude” and recalled his ambassador from Pyongyang.

On February 23, Malaysia’s Culture and Tourism Minister Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz described North Korea as a highly unpredictable “rogue state” and discouraged Malaysians from visiting North Korea.

“I don’t encourage Malaysians to visit North Korea. You cannot predict what they will do,” Nazri said.

With the cancellation of the visa-free entry to Malaysia, North Korea is more isolated than ever, even more so since China’s recent decision to stop buying coal from there which has turned out to be a blow for the country’s fragile economy.

It is also not clear what happens to North Korean expats in Malaysia when a new visa regime comes into force. Up to 1,000 North Koreans currently work in Malaysia, and their remittances are a valuable source of foreign currency for the isolated regime.

So far, North Korea has not announced it would end visa-free entry for Malaysian, but it is highly likely that it will do so. The first to feel the heat from such a decision would be Malaysia’s national football team which is scheduled to conduct a friendship game against North Korea’s national team this April.

In terms of international travel, North Korean citizen can still theoretically enter 43 countries without an official visa or with a visa-on-arrival. Among the fully visa-free countries are Belarus, Gambia, Ecuador, Kyrgyzstan, Guyana, Haiti and a few Caribbean and Pacific micro-states, and visas-on-arrival for North Koreans are granted by countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Jordan, Cambodia, Laos, East Timor, Somalia, Togo, Uganda and Tanzania, among a few others.

In comparison, North Korean passport holders in terms of the number of countries they can visit without an embassy-issued visa are even better off than citizens from Nepal, Lebanon, Iran, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan or Afghanistan.

However, the most difficult issue for potential North Korean travelers is to get approval to leave the country. A North Korean passport may be issued to citizens for international travel. But since most North Koreans do not get opportunities to leave their country, passports are issued very rarely.

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The Malaysian government scrapped the visa-free entry agreement for North Koreans after the deadly attack on North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un's half-brother Kim jong-nam in Kuala Lumpur on February 13. Visitors from North Korea to Malaysia will be required to apply for visas, effective March 6. The move, meant as a security measure, ends a unique agreement between the two countries that allowed Malaysian passport-holders to travel to North Korea without a visa, and vice versa, which made Malaysian passport holders the only ones to be allowed to enter North Korea visa-free. Singapore ended a similar reciprocal agreement last year....

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Malaysian government scrapped the visa-free entry agreement for North Koreans after the deadly attack on North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother Kim jong-nam in Kuala Lumpur on February 13. Visitors from North Korea to Malaysia will be required to apply for visas, effective March 6.

The move, meant as a security measure, ends a unique agreement between the two countries that allowed Malaysian passport-holders to travel to North Korea without a visa, and vice versa, which made Malaysian passport holders the only ones to be allowed to enter North Korea visa-free. Singapore ended a similar reciprocal agreement last year.

According to Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the decision to scrap the agreement has been made “after taking into account recent developments involving citizens of that country.”

Both countries used to have a good relationship until recently. On February 11, two days ahead of the Kim Jong-nam murder, both countries entered a cultural exchange cooperation. Other ties have been built in the trade and health sector in the past. 

The reciprocal visa deal was introduced in the early 1970 when former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad embraced the isolated state, in part to rebuff the US. Since then, North Korea and Malaysia had relatively busy bilateral trade, and Malaysia was some sort of “window” to the outside world for Pyongyang.

But since the bizarre attack on Kuala Lumpur’s international airport believed to be orchestrated by North Korea’s secret service, diplomatic relations between Malaysia and North Korea got more strained by the day.

North Korea officially denied any involvement in the attack. The national news agency KCNA said the assassination was a “conspiracy by the US and its allies to bring down socialism in North Korea,” and North Korea’s ambassador to Malaysia instead said investigators were conspiring with “hostile forces” – read South Korea. In retaliation, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak described the statement as “diplomatically rude” and recalled his ambassador from Pyongyang.

On February 23, Malaysia’s Culture and Tourism Minister Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz described North Korea as a highly unpredictable “rogue state” and discouraged Malaysians from visiting North Korea.

“I don’t encourage Malaysians to visit North Korea. You cannot predict what they will do,” Nazri said.

With the cancellation of the visa-free entry to Malaysia, North Korea is more isolated than ever, even more so since China’s recent decision to stop buying coal from there which has turned out to be a blow for the country’s fragile economy.

It is also not clear what happens to North Korean expats in Malaysia when a new visa regime comes into force. Up to 1,000 North Koreans currently work in Malaysia, and their remittances are a valuable source of foreign currency for the isolated regime.

So far, North Korea has not announced it would end visa-free entry for Malaysian, but it is highly likely that it will do so. The first to feel the heat from such a decision would be Malaysia’s national football team which is scheduled to conduct a friendship game against North Korea’s national team this April.

In terms of international travel, North Korean citizen can still theoretically enter 43 countries without an official visa or with a visa-on-arrival. Among the fully visa-free countries are Belarus, Gambia, Ecuador, Kyrgyzstan, Guyana, Haiti and a few Caribbean and Pacific micro-states, and visas-on-arrival for North Koreans are granted by countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Jordan, Cambodia, Laos, East Timor, Somalia, Togo, Uganda and Tanzania, among a few others.

In comparison, North Korean passport holders in terms of the number of countries they can visit without an embassy-issued visa are even better off than citizens from Nepal, Lebanon, Iran, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan or Afghanistan.

However, the most difficult issue for potential North Korean travelers is to get approval to leave the country. A North Korean passport may be issued to citizens for international travel. But since most North Koreans do not get opportunities to leave their country, passports are issued very rarely.

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