North Korean authorities have dispatched even greater numbers of workers to China with less than a month left until all North Korean workers abroad must return home in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2397, Daily NK has learned. The deadline for the return of all workers is Dec. 22.

North Korea’s persistence in sending workers to China is due to several reasons, including the regime’s desire to acquire foreign currency and the fact that Chinese authorities continue to overlook the presence of North Korean workers without proper visas in their country.

NORTH KOREA’S FOREIGN CURRENCY-EARNING RACKET

“Even just this month, workers from Pyongyang left for China en masse,” said a Pyongyang-based source to Daily NK on Sunday. “North Korea continues to export labor to China, depending on how much the Chinese factories need.” 

The majority of North Korean laborers sent to China recently are from Pyongyang. Whenever Chinese factories put in a request for labor to the North Korean trading factories, North Korea will immediately dispatch the number of workers requested, Daily NK sources said. 

“North Korea doesn’t really pay much attention to international sanctions,” one of the sources said. “The authorities earn a good deal of money even when they send workers to China for month-long stints.”

North Koreans workers sent to China earn a monthly wage of about RMB 1500 to 2000, with about half of that amount reportedly going to the state, sources said. 

“Even RMB 700 to 1000 a month is a sum that’s hard to come by in North Korea,” one of the sources reported. “From the perspective of the North Korean state, RMB 800 per head for thousands of workers adds up to a significant amount.” 

North Korean state can earn such a significant amount of foreign currency by dispatching its workers overseas, so it continues to mobilize all possible methods to continue doing so.

Most North Korean workers sent overseas in recent months were sent to Jilin Province, according to the sources.

“At the moment there aren’t many workers being sent to Liaoning Province [including Dandong], but mostly Jilin Province. There are lots of North Korean laborers in Hunchun and Tumen,” said one of the sources. 

NORTH KOREAN WOMEN INCREASINGLY SENT TO CHINA

For light industries such as textiles, electronics, and the processing of marine products that require meticulous labor, North Korea sends mostly women laborers.

Until recently, the North Korean state dispatched mostly unmarried women in their 20s, but recently the demand from Chinese factories has been so high that even married women have been included in the pool, said the sources. 

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

“In the past, they only sent unmarried women [to China], but now they send married women, too,” one of the sources explained. “North Korea has no money because of the sanctions, and Pyongyangites are getting less rations from the government now.”

In response, the authorities are now allowing women to go abroad like this to earn money. A recent group of workers sent to China reportedly included even housewives in their 40s, according to the sources.

CHINA CONTINUES TO TURN A BLIND EYE

Most other UN member states, except for China, have begun to repatriate North Korean workers ahead of the Dec. 22 deadline.

“Right now no other country is bringing in North Korean workers, except for China,” said a source. “The North Koreans dispatched to Russia, Mongolia, the Arab Emirates, and the Southeast Asian countries have all been sent back, so right now China is the main destination.”

Daily NK sources said that workers can earn enough money to start work as a merchant in North Korea just by working one year in China.

“This means that North Koreans want to work in China no matter what,” one of the sources explained. “For their part, North Korean authorities want to send as many workers abroad as they can.”

He added: “All of this is only possible because China is turning a blind eye.”

*Translated by Violet Kim

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Jang Seul Gi is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.