The wages of many North Korean workers in China have recently increased, signaling they will likely stay in the country for the foreseeable future.

According to a Daily NK source in China on Monday, the average monthly wages of North Korean workers in China’s Liaoning Province have increased to RMB 3,200-3,300 (approximately USD 501 – 516).

Workers who do overtime can reportedly make more than RMB 3,500 (around USD 548) a month.

This represents an increase of over RMB 1,000 over the average of RMB 2,300-2,500 (approximately USD 360 – 390) a month ordinary North Korean workers in China had been making.

However, it appears not all North Korean workers in China have enjoyed wage increases, and the size of the increase depends on the industry and workplace size.

North Korea has continuously demanded higher wages for its workers in China since last year. North Korean authorities reportedly demanded at first that the basic monthly wage of North Korean workers be raised as high as RMB 3,500.

The ultimate increase in wages was less than what North Korea was asking for, but both North Korean cadres and workers are reportedly satisfied nonetheless. 

china factory confined workers china return
A factory in the Chinese city of Hunchun, Jilin Province, that employs North Korean workers. / Image: Daily NK

Last year, when North Korea and Chinese companies began discussions to raise wages, negotiations ruptured when the Chinese side expressed reluctance to go with the amount demanded by the North, calling the proposed wage increase excessive.

However, with contract manufacturing orders flooding into northeast China due to the spread of COVID-19 in the country’s south, there has been more work for North Korean workers in China’s Liaoning and Jilin provinces.

Because of this, Chinese companies reportedly had little choice but to increase the wages of North Korean workers.

Despite the wage increases, North Korean workers still receive wages significantly lower than those enjoyed by Chinese workers, which means that work is flooding into Chinese companies that employ North Korean workers.

At contract manufacturing companies, Chinese workers receive an average monthly wage of RMB 8,000-12,000 (around USD 1250 – 1880) while North Korean workers receive no more than a quarter of that. This is why Chinese companies prefer North Korean workers.

Even though United Nations Security Council Resolution 2397 called for the repatriation of overseas North Korean workers by December of 2019, countless North Koreans continue to work in China, Russia, and Mongolia.

“[North] Korean workers can continue working in China because the interests of China and [North] Korea mesh,” said a source. “Even China does not want [to repatriate North Korean workers] because Chinese companies would suffer great losses if their [North] Korean workers all went home at once.”

Meanwhile, following the wage increases, the contributions that workers must pay into North Korea’s “loyalty fund” are believed to have increased as well. Daily NK was unable to confirm just how much these contributions have risen.

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to