North Korean authorities have been bolstering their recent efforts to prevent North Korean workers in China from running away amid protracted stays overseas.

According to multiple Daily NK sources in China on Thursday, there are about 30,000 North Korean workers in Liaoning Province, including Dandong, and about 20,000 in Jilin Province, including Hunchun.

As there are North Korean workers residing outside those regions as well, there appears to be over 50,000 North Korean workers in China overall.

North Korean authorities are having increasing difficulty managing workers overseas due to their protracted sojourns overseas following Pyongyang’s closure of the border in the wake of COVID-19. The authorities have reportedly moved most North Korean nationals, once dispersed throughout China, to Liaoning and Jilin provinces.

As both provinces were already home to many North Korean nationals, it appears the authorities congregated workers there to more efficiently control their large numbers.

In fact, North Korean authorities sent new workers to Mongolia, Russia, and China this year as well. As no North Korean workers have been repatriated, the number of North Korean workers overseas has actually increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moreover, with the ratio of workers increasing vis-à-vis management personnel, including Ministry of State Security agents and cadres, there has reportedly been a noticeable increase in attempted defections.

jilin province workers work
North Korean workers at a clothing factory in China’s Jilin Province. / Image: Daily NK

According to a source, a North Korean attempted to escape from his compound in Shenyang, Liaoning Province last month, too.

Moreover, in addition to solo attempts to escape, there are also attempts at mass breakouts, and even cadres tasked with overseeing laborers are reportedly disappearing.

North Korean authorities are responding by tightening the reins on North Korean workers in China.

The North Korean embassy in Beijing recently instructed consulates throughout the country to ban North Korean workers from traveling long distances or from being dispatched to other regions.

Many of the companies and factories that employed North Korean workers have taken major hits since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Accordingly, some North Korean workers have changed industries and moved to different regions. However, North Korean authorities have ordered that workers are “not to be arbitrarily moved under any circumstances.”

Workers and even their supervising cadres are reportedly greeting the order with disapproval.

This is because North Korean workers in restaurants often went to different regions to earn money doing temporary work when their own workplaces ran into difficulties.

“Now that I can’t send the kids [workers] to other regions, now I even have thoughts of running off,” said one cadre in charge of workers. “They don’t reduce the party funds we must contribute, but they don’t let us make money. So isn’t escaping this situation the only way to survive?”

“Even here in China, it’s not easy to make money,” he added. “The situation is similar both in[North Korea] and here.”

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