A North Korean worker in her 50s was recently arrested in Yanji (China) and repatriated after allegedly overstaying her visa. The Chinese authorities are currently in the midst of a crackdown on illegal North Korean workers and those overstaying their work contracts.
“A woman from Pyongyang who was working as a housekeeper in Yanji for the past 5 years was arrested at the end of October and sent back to North Korea. The authorities are trying to track down workers who are staying too long in China,” reported a source in China who spoke with Daily NK on November 16.
According to the source, the woman originally came to China to earn seed money to start a business back in Pyongyang. Upon arrival, she learned that all of her relatives had left for South Korea, but she decided to stay and look for work regardless. She then visited an employment agency and was able to start working legally as she had the required visa and paperwork issued by the North Korean authorities.
The woman worked as a caregiver for the elderly and was given household chores, earning 3,000 yuan (about $450 USD) per month. Although her original intention was just to earn enough to start a business back in the North, the allure of capitalism and the ability to earn more money led her to stay in China longer.
“She began sending money back to her family in Pyongyang through brokers, and slowly but surely lost interest in returning there herself. But now with the surprise arrest, she is ultimately being forced to return home,” the source added.
North Koreans with relatives in China are permitted to enter the country on temporary 60-day visas if they pay the authorities a $500 USD bribe. People can receive 1-3 month visas from the Chinese authorities as well if they submit the proper paperwork, and they are allowed up to three extensions. If a person fails to apply for an extension or stays beyond their allowance, they can be arrested by the authorities.
North Koreans nevertheless take extreme risks because of the ability to earn much more money in China than in their home country.
A source in South Pyongan Province informed Daily NK that “local State Security agents are interrogated by higher authorities when a resident from their area is determined to have overstayed their visas in China. The number of North Koreans being repatriated from Dandong and Yanji in China is growing every year.”
Travelers who significantly overstay their visas face harsh punishment. Intensive interrogation by the North Korean authorities awaits, together with prohibitive fines (10,000 yuan per year).
North Koreans who are found to have been in contact with South Koreans or Christians in China are sent to prison camps, while those who are determined to have gone simply to earn money are sentenced to 3-6 months in a disciplinary labor center.
“Sometimes people are forced to surrender all of the money they earned in China. The MSS focuses on the money-earning activities that each person engaged in, and no matter what you say they’ll hold it against you,” the South Pyongan-based source concluded.