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Influx of N. Korean workers into China jumps 20 pct annually in 3 years

November 11, 2014

SEOUL (Yonhap) — The number of North Koreans going to China to find work rose an average 20 percent annually in the last three years, reaching a record 93,000 in 2013, a report by a local international traders association said Tuesday.

These North Koreans are usually paid barely more than half what Chinese workers get, according to the findings by the Korea International Trade Association (KITA).

The report said the rate of workers’ increase is more than twice as high as the 9.1 percent in overall rise of migrant workers entering China in the same period.

For 2014, 44,000 North Koreans have arrived in the world’s second largest economy to find jobs, roughly on par with figures from the year before.

KITA said the number of North Korean workers entering China constitutes 47.8 percent of North Koreans visiting the neighboring country as a whole. Last year some 207,000 North Korean nationals entered China, up sharply from 116,000 in 2010.

“The increase seems to be a win-win arrangement for both sides since workers send back money, which is an easy way for the cash-strapped communist country to get hard currency, while China benefits from cheap labor,” the trade association said.

North Korean workers are usually paid 260,000-280,000 won (US$238-256) per month, which is much less than 440,000-530,000 won that businesses pay Chinese citizens.

In particular, KITA said that agreements signed between Pyongyang and Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces and other regional authorities in the North Korea-China border areas in 2012 is effectively fueling the influx of cheap workers.

The agency said South Korean companies, however, that have set up operations in China are barred from using North Korean workers due to opposition from Pyongyang.

“There is a need to get North Korea to lift its ban on allowing its workers who can benefit these firms to be employed by a South Korean company,” a KITA official said. He said in the long term, it may be feasible to use North Korean workers, with their cheap labor costs, to allow South Korean firms to make inroads into China’s domestic consumer market.

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