A Closer Look

COVID and Seasonal Labor Needs – A race against the clock

As the world faces a pandemic of historic proportions, governments face an array of time-sensitive policy questions. One of the more pressing ones: who is going to produce the food that their populations need? In many highly developed countries, the agriculture and horticulture sectors have long relied on foreign workers amid difficulties recruiting locally for seasonal roles such as planting and harvesting crops. But as countries close their borders or introduce travel restrictions, seasonal workers are unable to enter and agricultural producers in countries such as Canada, the United States, Belgium, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand are projecting dire labor shortages, with serious implications for food security. France’s National Federation of Agricultural Holders’ Unions warned of a shortfall of 200,000 workers over the next three months, including 80,000 to harvest asparagus and strawberries in April. Likewise, Germany is concerned about securing the 286,000 seasonal workers it needs each year, while UK agriculture representatives have warned of a potential shortfall of 80,000 seasonal workers.

In this podcast, MPI experts examine ways in which countries could address labor shortages in agriculture, including recruiting native-born workers and letting already present seasonal workers stay longer. Catch an interesting discussion as border closures have halted the movement of seasonal workers even as crops are approaching harvest in some places.

To avoid critical crop losses, governments are exploring a combination of three measures, two of which touch on immigration policymaking:

  • redeploying residents to take on these roles
  • expanding the stay of foreign seasonal workers already present, and
  • issuing exemptions to continue admitting foreign seasonal labor.

Each scenario requires governments to put public health considerations front and center: for example, how to screen arriving and returning workers to avoid community transmission of the virus, how to implement social distancing in a context of labor-intensive farming, how to provide adequate access to paid sick leave and health care for such workers, and how to support those stranded in destination countries by new travel restrictions.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story @ A Race Against the Clock: Meeting Seasonal Labor Needs in the Age of COVID-19 | migrationpolicy.org


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