North Korean workers continue to face sojourn restrictions 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

China has implemented measures to restrict the sojourn periods of North Koreans in the country following the US-North Korean summit in Hanoi. This has led to a noticeable reduction in the number of North Koreans living in the bordering Chinese city of Dandong.

“From May, there have been fewer North Koreans traveling to Dandong,” said a Daily NK source in China close to North Korea affairs. “The Chinese announced restrictions on sojourn periods for North Koreans earlier this year and they appear to be in force.”

“In the past, many North Koreans doing business or visiting family came to Dandong, but now it’s hard to find such people here,” the source continued. “North Koreans are paid less than Chinese locals and are considered good workers, so the companies really appreciated them. Now, however, Chinese businesses are in a pickle due to the lack of workers.”

Daily NK learned in March through a North Korean official based in Dandong that the Chinese authorities were planning to restrict the sojourn periods of North Korean workers.

“The first stage will be to restrict the sojourn periods of one-month visa holders, and the second stage will begin in May or June and involve restricting North Koreans who have acquired visas for business or to visit family,” the source said at that time.

Japan’s Tokyo Shimbun reported in late April that the Chinese government had ordered all North Korean workers to leave China by the end of June.

Following moves by the Chinese authorities to restrict the sojourn periods of North Koreans, a large number of North Korean workers who were earning foreign currency in Dandong were seen returning home.

Some North Korea observers suggest that the Chinese government’s motive to expel North Korean workers is due to the ongoing trade dispute with the US and their desire to avoid any accusations regarding North Korea.

The US insists that sanctions on North Korea must remain in place until the country moves to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. As part of efforts to gain a more advantageous position in US-China trade negotiations, China may be trying to show that it is adhering to the UN Security Council resolution that requires UN members to cease the granting and renewal of visas for North Korean workers.

An abandoned factory in Jilin Province scheduled to re-open and employ North Korean labor
An abandoned factory in Jilin Province scheduled to re-open and employ North Korean labor. Image: Daily NK

In China’s Jilin Province, some North Korean workers are changing jobs out of fear of the Chinese crackdown on sojourn periods. There are an estimated 6,000 North Korean workers in Hunchun.

“Some of the workers in Hunchun are moving to other places,” a separate source in China with ties to North Korea reported. “They are trying to avoid the Chinese crackdown on visa sojourn periods and UN sanctions.”

“The workers have work visas so they may try to change their status to ‘trainees’ and ‘university students’ to avoid getting entangled in UN sanctions,” he added.

Daily NK previously reported that some North Koreans whose visas had expired have since acquired student visas or trainee visas to reenter China.