Scroll over highlighted countries for estimates of the number of North Korean workers hosted in that country. Highlighted countries without a number have only a limited number of North Korean workers, and/or limited data is available.

Where is this data from?

This data is collected from a range of research articles and media reports, and reflects a broad survey of these sources. A full range of sources consulted is available for download in the spreadsheet above. Countries hosting North Korean restaurants (which are managed and operated by overseas North Korean staff) are highlighted in the map above, even if the countries are not known to host North Korean workers in other industries.

This data does not include undocumented North Koreans abroad, who overwhelmingly reside in China. (North Koreans who arrive in South Korea are given ROK citizenship.)

How reliable is this data?

The data in this chart should not be seen as definitive, either in terms of its estimates of North Korean workers in any given country, or in the range of countries identified as hosting North Korean workers. Reliable statistics on the number of North Korean workers in any given country are generally not available. Some of the highlighted countries may no longer host North Korean workers, while others that are not highlighted may host them in limited numbers.

How many North Koreans are believed to work overseas?

Estimates of the number of North Koreans overseas vary considerably. Some researchers, as well as a 2015 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on North Korean Human Rights, cite roughly 50,000 overseas workers. Other analysts have given larger estimates, ranging as high as 120,000 overseas workers.

The reason for this variation hinges mostly on the difficulty of estimating the number of North Korean workers in China. The number of North Koreans legally entering China has increased significantly in recent years, with over 188,000 reported entrants in 2015, including 94,000 entrants identifed as "workers and crew". This may be connected to a reported 2012 informal agreement between Beijing and Pyongyang allowing for an increased number of North Koreans to work in China. However, data on the number of reported entrants does not necessarily reflect the total number of North Korean workers in China. On the one hand, some North Korean workers may have been placed in entry categories other than "workers and crew," and workers might stay longer than one-year periods. One the other hand, it is not clear whether the "worker and crew" category includes transportation workers who may enter China on a routine basis for very short terms, or how often North Korean workers (particularly those stationed in the border area) travel back and forth across the border -- in either case, any given worker would be counted as an "entrant" multiple times in a single year. 

UN Security Council Resolution 2371 (adopted in August 2017) obliges member states not to "exceed on any date after the date of adoption of this resolution the total number of work authorizations for DPRK nationals provided in their jurisdictions at the time of the adoption of this resolution," unless specially authorized. However, the resolution does not include a clear enforcement mechanism for this obligation, and does not specifically require states to report on the number of DPRK nationals authorized to work in their territory.

What type of work do overseas North Koreans conduct?

North Korean overseas workers typically work in industries such as construction, logging, textile manufacturing, and mining. Additionally, the North Korean government operates an international chain of an estimated 100 restaurants run by North Korean staff, and North Korean doctors are posted at a number of medical clinics that have been established in parts of Africa and Asia. North Korea's Mansudae Overseas Development Group sends staff abroad for the construction of large sculpture and art projects. Some North Korean military personnel have also been posted abroad to provide foreign militaries and police forces with training, although UN sanctions resolutions appear to have recently curtailed some of this activity.

North Korea's overseas workers are typically closely managed by DPRK state-run enterprises, which contract with foreign partners to provide labor. While conditions may vary from place to place, human rights advocates note that North Korean overseas workers often labor under intense conditions, face restrictions on their movements, and keep little of their wages. Other analysts argue that work abroad nonetheless provides North Koreans with the opportunity to earn more money than they could at home, and that foreign work is often seen as desirable within North Korea.

While it appears that the majority of state-organized North Korean overseas workers are men, women comprise a majority of the undocumented North Koreans living in China. Due to their vulnerable status, undocumented North Korean women are often subject to sex trafficking or forced marriage. Undocumented North Koreans in China also reportedly work in industries such as construction, textile manufacturing, hotels, and restaurants.