Arab state to halt N. Korea visas, new businesses
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates said Thursday that it would stop issuing new visas to North Korean workers, becoming the latest Persian Gulf country to limit Pyongyang’s ability to evade sanctions and raise money abroad as tensions rise with the U.S.
A statement by the Foreign Ministry did not address the hundreds of North Korean laborers already working in the United Arab Emirates. A call to the federation’s embassy in Washington was not immediately returned.
The statement said the United Arab Emirates would pull its nonresident ambassador to North Korea as well as stop North Koreans from opening new businesses in the country, a federation of seven sheikdoms on the Arabian Peninsula that is a staunch U.S. ally.
The United Arab Emirates “looks forward to a unified global front against North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile program,” the statement read.
It’s not clear what prompted the decision, though American officials have been pressuring their allies in the Gulf Arab states to cut back on economic ties to North Korea. The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Last month, Kuwait announced it would expel North Korea’s ambassador to the oilrich country and four other diplomats, as well as limit visas. North Korea’s Embassy in Kuwait City serves as its only diplomatic outpost in the Persian Gulf. Qatar has said “less than 1,000” North Koreans are in the country and their visas will not be renewed. North Korean laborers also are in Oman.
The U.S. and Asian nations have increased pressure on their allies to cut ties as Pyongyang has tested a nuclear weapon and launched ballistic missiles over Japan.
While a small market compared with China and Russia, the amount of money North Korean laborers in the Persian Gulf kick back to the government helps Pyongyang evade international sanctions, authorities say. A 2015 U.N. report suggested that the more than 50,000 North Koreans working overseas earned Pyongyang between $1.2 billion and $2.3 billion a year. Other estimates put earnings in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Thousands of North Koreans work across the Persian Gulf. Kuwait said in August that 6,064 North Korean laborers worked there. The United Arab Emirates has as many as 1,500 North Korean workers, said two officials with knowledge of Pyongyang’s tactics, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence reports.
North Koreans working in the Persian Gulf earn around $1,000 a month, with about half being kept by the North Korean government and another $300 going to construction company managers, the officials said. That leaves workers with $200 for working straight through the month, they said.