In a volte-face on a practice dating to Soviet times, Moscow’s ambassador to Pyongyang said on Wednesday several Russian regions had started sending back North Korean workers.
The new ban will be a “blow to the Russian economy,” ambassador Alexander Matsegora told state news agency RIA Novosti.
He said it was being done to comply with sanctions adopted by the United Nations security council last year over North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, including a prohibition on giving new visas to its workers abroad.
Russia issues 12,000-15,000 visas to North Koreans each year, and 35,000 North Koreans have been working here, mostly in construction, agriculture and fishing, Mr Matsegora added.
Vladimir Putin said in September that North Koreans would sooner “eat grass” than give up their nuclear programme, but Russia supported new sanctions that were less harsh than the United States wanted.
The Pyongyang regime earns an estimated half billion dollars annually from 100,000 North Korean labourers abroad, who often toil in “slave-like conditions,” according to a UN special rapporteur.
Mr Matsegora denied this but admitted labourers give 50-60 per cent of their wages to Pyongyang.
Last year, it was reported that North Korean workers helped build 2018 World Cup stadium in St Petersburg, and one had died at the site.
Russia has been increasing trade and transport links with its eastern neighbour even as it officially condemns North Korea’s weapons programme.
North Korean coal has been unloaded in Russian ports and then shipped to South Korea and Japan, likely violating the sanctions, Reuters reported in January.