No, this is not a joke (although the standard caveats apply); New Focus International has secured a copy of a cadre application form, which it reproduces with annotations by Dr. Hyeon Seong-il at the University of North Korean Studies.
The application contains some interesting reminders of the persistence of the songbun or social classification system (Robert Collins has an excellent overview of the system for the Committee on Human Rights in North Korea). For example, the form simply asks outright what the applicant’s birth and current social class is—implying that the classification system is broadly common knowledge—as well as the same information for family members up to four degrees removed, depending on the role for which the application is being made. The form asks whether the applicant or their family members collaborated with the Japanese before liberation, had dealings with religious elements, or connections with the opposition during the Korean War. How, exactly, is this different than a caste system?
The form is nowhere near as complex as the US’ infamous SF86, the 21-page form required for anyone applying for a national security position. The reasons are in part because by the time a party member is applying for cadre status and appointment to a full-time party position they have already gone through a significant vetting process simply to become party members.
But the form may also be simpler because the principle of joint family—and recommender—responsibility is brought to bear. When we recommend a student for graduate school or an employee for a job, we have some reputational stake in our recommendation. In North Korea, however, it appears that those providing assurances are actually held responsible for any future problems that might arise in connection with the candidate; the stakes are higher. As Andrei Lankov, In-ok Kwak and Choong-Bin Cho show in a great piece in the Journal of East Asian Studies, such mutual surveillance and responsibility is a key feature of what the North Korean’s call “the organizational life.”