Faced with foreign exchange shortages, North Korean authorities reportedly plan to send a new batch of workers overseas. Pyongyang plans to send over 1,000 workers within the year, with authorities seemingly unconcerned with international sanctions on the country.

According to a Daily NK source in Pyongyang on Tuesday, North Korean authorities are currently training the workers before their departure to Russia next month. 

The authorities plan to send them in two or three batches, the first of which is scheduled to depart in early-to-mid November.     

These workers will be sent to logging camps. Logging requires frozen ground, so authorities plan to complete the dispatch of the workers before the winter begins. 

UN Security Council Resolution 2397, adopted in December 2017, called for the repatriation of all North Korean nationals earning income abroad by December 2019.

However, North Korean authorities have not been repatriating North Korean workers overseas since closing the nation’s borders in January 2020, ostensibly due to COVID-19 concerns.

On Oct. 4, the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea released a report by an experts’ panel that examined the enforcement of sanctions on North Korea during the six-month period between February and August and issued related recommendations.

The panel said though North Korea had to repatriate all its workers overseas by Dec. 22, 2019, in line with the UN Security Council resolution, some remained overseas, earning foreign exchange in sectors such as IT.

A timber truck in Russia. / Image: Wikimedia Commons

In particular, the report said North Korea’s border closure likely provides opportunities to North Korean workers overseas to extend their stays and continue earning foreign exchange.

This means that the North Korean authorities could be using the border closure to expand foreign currency earnings through its laborers overseas.

In fact, North Korean authorities reportedly sent new workers to Russia, Mongolia, and elsewhere in the first half of the year, despite the protracted border closure.

On the other hand, North Korea did select some workers in China to repatriate as part of efforts to replace them, but none have returned to the country so far.

That is to say, North Korea is essentially sending new workers without repatriating or replacing workers currently overseas.

Moreover, the authorities are actively exploiting workers sent overseas to secure foreign exchange, raising the percentage of their earnings they must pay to the ruling party in the name of “loyalty funds” by 30 to 55%.

One defector who worked as a logger in Russia said the dispatch of over 1,000 people as loggers suggests the authorities intend to send what amounts to an “entire company” overseas. “A considerable amount of foreign exchange will flow into the hands of the authorities, too,” he added.

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

Read in Korean

Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time reporters and covers North Korean economic and diplomatic issues, including workers dispatched abroad. Jang has a M.A. in Sociology from University of North Korean Studies and a B.A. in Sociology from Yonsei University. She can be reached at skjang(at)uni-media.net.