BARCELONA, April 8 – Spain will temporarily allow thousands of illegal migrants to pick fruit to address labour shortages caused by the new coronavirus outbreak, in a move closely watched across Europe.
The European Union’s biggest fruit and vegetable exporter will also allow unemployed Spaniards to continue to receive state benefits while working as fruit pickers in a bid to find 300,000 seasonal workers as it approaches the May harvest.
“It’s an opportunity for lots of people, otherwise they’re just trapped at home,” Lorenzo Ramos, general secretary of the Union of Small Farmers, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“The countryside can be a refuge,” he said, adding that workers were needed from across Spain and abroad to harvest everything from strawberries, blueberries, oranges and grapes to prunes, tomatoes and courgettes.
Spain is the first European country to make legal changes, but others are exploring solutions to agricultural labour shortages as travel restrictions imposed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic prevent cross-border workers travelling to their jobs.