North Korean government orders some workers to overstay sojourn periods in China

North Korean women workers at the customs office in Dandong
North Korean women workers at the customs office in Dandong. image: Daily NK

Despite the stream of overseas North Korean workers returning home, the North Korean government has ordered some workers to remain in China and continue working, in some cases regardless of visa overstays.

“North Korean authorities have ordered some workers in China to delay their return home because it could cause disruptions in work there,” said a source in China close to North Korean affairs. “The authorities have ordered them to stay even if their sojourn periods end.”

Generally, North Korean workers spend three years abroad before returning home. International sanctions have made it difficult to send new workers abroad, however.

North Korea is undergoing difficulties in earning foreign currency due to the sanctions, and authorities are forcing workers to stay abroad so that existing sources of foreign currency can remain intact. The workers themselves, however, are reportedly in a state of intense confusion.

“Some of the workers don’t know whether they will be able to get paid properly if they stay, and want to go home because the work they’re doing is so difficult,” said the source. “They are frustrated because they can’t go home anymore.”

Some observers say that the North Korean workers staying in China despite the end of their visa periods may be arrested as illegal migrants. The workers already face difficult conditions, and staying in China after their sojourn periods end will lead to even more difficulties for them.

There are some, however, who have welcomed the order to stay in China. “Some people think that staying in China until December (the time at which all overseas workers have to return home) will allow them to receive reliable income,” a separate source in China said, adding that some workers believe that deployment abroad is preferable to returning home due to the guarantee of steady work.

The UN Security Council passed Resolution 2397 in 2017 calling for all North Korean workers overseas to return home by late 2019. UN member countries must send all North Korean workers within their borders back to North Korea and submit reports on their status to the UN Security Council by December this year.

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