North Korea recently ordered its workers in China to stay in the country until at least the end of this year, Daily NK has learned. 

“North Korean workers at restaurants and factories in Liaoning and Jilin provinces had their stays extended until year’s end,” a Daily NK source in China said on Apr. 27. 

According to multiple Daily NK sources, the decision was issued to North Korean officials responsible for overseeing the workers at North Korea’s diplomatic missions in China. 

“Most of us are overjoyed at this decision,” one North Korean worker in China told Daily NK. “We can now earn the money we weren’t able to earn when everything was shut down because of COVID-19.” 

While North Korean authorities ordered restaurants in China to reopen on Mar. 19, reports from China suggest that most North Korean restaurants are suffering financially because many Chinese are still not eating out. 

Factories in China are also facing difficulties, although textile factories in the country have returned to normal operational levels due to the vast demand for masks and protective clothing. 

Contract manufacturers and assembly factories, on the other hand, are reportedly operating at below capacity because of the lack of orders and the broader malaise in the Chinese economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

NO FEAR OF GETTING SENT BACK

Importantly, the new order guarantees an extension for all workers; this means that workers who entered China with student training visas or without visas at all no longer have to fear that they may be sent back without warning.

After the United Nations Security Council decreed in 2017 that all North Korean laborers had to be repatriated by Dec. 22, 2019, North Korean workers found it difficult to obtain new visas to work in China through normal channels. 

North Korean authorities resorted to dispatching laborers to work for Chinese companies under false pretenses, whether on student visas, through exchange programs for industrial trainees, or as temporary visitors.

The new extension order, however, has led North Korean workers in China to express concerns about more frequent demands from the authorities for “loyalty payments.” 

Shortly after announcing that North Korean workers should return to work in late March, Daily NK reported on Apr. 14 that North Korean authorities told workers that they would be expected to pay their loyalty dues.

In late January, North Korean authorities also ordered overseas North Korean workers to pay their “first quarter dues” in advance, according to Daily NK sources. 

FRUSTRATION AMONG TRADING COMPANIES

The recent decision by North Korea’s leadership to restrict “unnecessary” imports until the end of the year has reportedly caused disappointment among those working at North Korean trading companies in China. 

“We were really anticipating that trade would start up again next month, but the atmosphere is gloomy because the authorities decided to restrict imports to necessities,” one China-based North Korean trader told Daily NK. 

“It’s inevitable that smuggling will decline, the prices of imported goods will rise and prices in the jangmadang [local markets] will increase as well,” he added.

Daily NK reported on Apr. 22 that North Korea had announced that all nonessential imports would be restricted on Apr. 17.

*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.