Companies in China prepare to employ more North Korean workers

This undated image shows the passenger train that runs between the Chinese border city of Dandong and North Korea’s border city of Sinuiju, docked in Dandong City, Liaoning Province, China. (Credit:

Companies in China are reportedly preparing to employ North Korean workers.

Firms in the Chinese border city of Dandong, across the Yalu River from the city of Sinuiju, are significantly expanding production spaces and building new dormitories.

One company in particular has bought land and built production facilities on three or four levels, as well as a five-story dormitory facility. It has also erected a concrete wall topped with barbed wire around its perimeter, along with a moat. 

NK Insider has received photos and video footage of the new plant and has confirmed their authenticity, but we have opted not to show them in order to protect the source. 

What we can say is that it is located in an isolated spot away from local residential complexes and appears to be ready to employ workers in a state akin to confinement. 

But that’s not all.

A closer look reveals that the dormitory consists of closely spaced rooms along both sides of its long corridors. Each room is 3m by 4m and contains iron bunks for eight occupants. 

Each floor has a common dining area and shared bathroom and toilet. The dining space on each level indicates that occupants will not be permitted to freely move between floors. Metal doors at either end of each floor are closed, confirming the suspicion that residents will not have unauthorized access via the stairways. 

The structure resembles a detention facility, no matter how you look at it. But then, this is what the facilities of most Chinese companies that employ North Korean workers look like. 

North Korean authorities insist that accommodation facilities be within factory premises in their contracts with overseas companies. Before the pandemic, they would seldom accept accommodation outside the factory site. 

The pandemic changed things. North Korea took it as a golden opportunity for foreign currency earning. It closed its borders even to its own overseas workers as a way to keep them employed for as long as possible. 

While it justified this as a health and safety measure, it was in fact a calculated strategy for foreign currency. Even now, although the border with China is open to trade once more, the country is not taking back its workers. 

It is estimated that there are over 100,000 North Korean workers in China. This figure is based on a leak from the North Korean consulate in Dandong where officials some time ago let it be known how many passports for workers on expired three-year contracts were being extended. 

Most of the workers are women in their 20s and 30s. They have been trapped for almost six years due to the pandemic. 

There are cases of women in their 30s who were newly married and sent on one-month travel visas who ended up stuck in China. One we know of left a one-year old child at home, believing she could earn some money, only to find herself trapped. Another woman volunteered to work abroad to cover medical expenses for her sick parents and siblings. She, too, has been unable to return for six years.

During the pandemic, authorities were concerned that news from home would disrupt workers. As a result, besides being trapped, the workers in Chinese factories did not know how their families’ were doing. 

In these circumstances, some women resorted to suicide by jumping from their dormitory buildings.

Others who expressed their frustration were confined and beaten by the secret police.

Now it appears that these women are to be joined by a new cohort.

Era Seo

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