At least 2,000 North Korean workers were recently dispatched to factories in China with non-work visas, Daily NK recently learned. 

“A huge number of North Korean laborers were recently were sent to China,” a China-based source told Daily NK in mid-October. “They are now working at sewing factories and other places.” 

The workers were sent to various parts of China, including the city of Hunchun in Jilin Province, the source said. 

All of the workers had never been to China before and entered the country with so-called visitor permits (“river-crossing visas” in North Korean parlance), rather than work visas, he added. 


Daily NK has long reported on North Korean workers entering China without proper work visas. United Nations Security Council Resolution 2397, which was implemented in 2017, banned North Koreans from receiving new work visas from all UN member countries and mandated that all North Korean workers abroad must return home by Dec. 22, 2019. 

North Korean workers who entered China without work visas have exploited a loophole in the Chinese visa system where they can return to North Korea each month to renew their visas. 

Recently, however, Daily NK sources have reported that workers have begun to skip even this formality.

“It is quite complicated to have thousands of workers lining up at customs to receive their exit stamps and then to come out again. Their Chinese bosses did not like it either because it left them without labor for a time,” one of the sources explained. “There are now a fair amount of North Koreans who don’t even bother to reissue their visas, but just stay in the country illegally and continue to work.” 

Provincial Chinese governments appear to be turning a blind eye to this practice, the source added. 


“[North Korea] already has countermeasures in place [to deal with the full recall of North Korean workers on December 22],” a China-based North Korea expert told Daily NK. He added that the North Koreans would continue to enter China without a visa and to work by extending their visit.

Daily NK sources have indicated, however, that North Korean authorities recently handed down an order for the full recall of all North Korean workers in China by Dec. 21, one day before the UN-mandated deadline. 

Despite this order, Daily NK sources caution that a full recall of North Korean workers in China would be very difficult to verify. North Korean workers can continue to work in Chinese companies through short-term visas or “apprentice” visas.

“It’s possible that North Korea issued that order to show the international community that it is complying with the sanctions,” the China-based source told Daily NK. “They will likely recall workers dispatched abroad with work visas, but it doesn’t seem as though this recall will include workers who are overseas without work visas or who are on student visas.” 

This article is part of a special series of articles by Daily NK reporters focused on the Sino-North Korean border.

*Translated by Violet Kim

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to