China is issuing work visas for 20,000 North Koreans so they can work in three northeastern provinces of Jilin, Liaoning and Heilongjiang. The move comes amid a crackdown on illegal North Korean migrants who typically drift into menial jobs, but a diplomatic source in Seoul said the three Chinese provinces now decided to legally hire 20,000 North Koreans for jobs there in a bid to ease a labor shortage.
A company in Tumen, Jilin Province already hired some 29 North Korean women this month, and another 160 women were also sent there. The press in the three provinces is full of ads looking for North Korean workers.
They will reportedly work in manufacturing and service companies on a work visa, earning on average over US$150 a month, compared to $110 North Korean workers nominally make at the joint-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex.
Experts speculate that the drive to attract legal North Korean workers aims to provide some breathing space for North Korean regime under new leader Kim Jong-un. Pyongyang is keen to earn hard currency amid continuing international sanctions.
Early this year, Kim was reported as saying that the risk of a few defections is far outweighed by the money overseas workers send home.
The new policy benefits especially small and midsize businesses in China. One hotel in Yanji, for example, has a number of staff with Kim Jong-il badges on their lapels.
Another source based in Seoul said China and North Korea seem to have hit on a way that works for them both, since Beijing wants to stem the flow of illegal North Korean migrants even if they include bona-fide refugees, but at the same time China needs the cheap labor and Pyongyang wants the money.