North Korean authorities recently ordered at least some North Korean workers in China to return home, Daily NK has learned. 

“The order was announced earlier this month, though I don’t know exactly when or how it was handed down,” a source in China told Daily NK yesterday.

“North Korean workers in China are failing to earn much money despite working overtime and this led North Korean authorities to hand down the order,” he added. 

Daily NK was unable to confirm whether the order applies to all North Korean workers in China, but Daily NK sources did confirm that the order was handed down to workers in China’s Liaoning and Jilin provinces, both of which sit right next to North Korea. 

North Korean workers in some parts of China were also recently spotted by Daily NK sources purchasing electronics and clothes, which is behavior that typically appears before workers are to return home. 


The repatriation order appears focused on raising the low wages North Korean workers in the country are receiving from Chinese businesses, including factories. 

“The monthly wages for laborers agreed upon by our trading company and a Chinese company are low compared to the amount of work being done,” a North Korean trade company representative in China told Daily NK. 

“One of our company’s top people said that the [North Korean] government would be extracting workers [from China] for the next couple of months. They plan to demand RMB 3,500 [around USD 488] per month in wages for each worker and then refuse to send workers to factories that won’t pay,” he said. 

The representative told Daily NK that North Koreans work at more than 300 factories in Dandong. According to him, North Korean laborers receive only RMB 1,700 to 2,000 (USD 237 to 279) per month to work 12 hour days – not to mention overtime work that stretches into the wee hours of the morning.

Essentially, North Korean authorities plan to rectify this unfair working situation by first returning the workers home and then, later, sending them back with the demand for better pay. 

North Korean officials reportedly believe that the demand for North Korean labor in China will remain high because wages for North Koreans remain relatively low compared to Chinese workers. They also reason that Chinese businesses will want to continue to employ North Koreans because they are skilled, live together in dormitories and have managers who monitor their activities.  

That all being said, the COVID-19 pandemic reportedly played a part in the repatriation order. Indeed, the pandemic has led some North Korean workers to go without pay because their Chinese employers are struggling financially.

North Korean workers in China affected by the repatriation order will likely return home in June and August, but the actual date could be delayed depending on the COVID-19 situation along the Sino-North Korean border. 


Chinese business managers have reportedly reacted with surprise to the repatriation order and North Korea’s plans to demand higher wages.  

“Chinese business owners don’t think it’s realistic to raise wages up to RMB 3,500,” the source in China told Daily NK.

“While the North Koreans will try to get higher monthly wages for their workers next time around, the Chinese will likely try to bring this figure down and the two sides will eventually settle on a number lower than RMB 3,500,” he said, adding that Chinese attempts to lower wages will continue even after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides and the Chinese economy returns to normal.

Meanwhile, the repatriation order does not seem to apply to restaurant workers. North Korean restaurants in China are suffering financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they are trying various ways to stay afloat. 

Some North Korean restaurants have reportedly abandoned their normal “daytime” activities and have resorted to transforming into “underground” bars. Other restaurants are also attempting to shift to similar business arrangements to make ends meet. 

*Translated by Violet Kim

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