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EU urges countries to open borders to seasonal farm workers

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU countries should allow the hundreds of thousands of seasonal migrant workers who plant or harvest crops to cross borders despite national measures to contain the coronavirus, the European Commission said on Monday.

Countries across the 27-nation European Union have set up border controls to stem the spread of the virus, but with the side effect of delaying food and medical supplies, as well as cross-border workers.

The EU executive last week urged EU countries to limit to 15 minutes the time it takes for goods traffic to cross a border, reporting some success on Monday, although some crossings into and out of Hungary had jams of up to 4 km (2.5 miles).

The Commission said on Monday countries should establish simple and fast procedures to ensure smooth passage for essential workers with proportionate health screenings. Some 1.5 million people live in one EU country and work in another.

Essential workers, the EU executive said, include healthcare professionals, police and transport workers. In Luxembourg, for example, most people working in hospitals live in Belgium or France.

The Commission also highlighted the issue of seasonal workers, particularly in farms, who it said should be categorized as essential and able to travel. It encouraged EU countries to exchange information on their different needs.

France and Germany together take in around 500,000 seasonal farm migrant workers each year and have been considering how to get fruit and vegetables picked in changed times. French Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume last week issued a rallying cry to a “shadow army” of other workers laid off by the crisis to help.

However, Europe’s leading farming association has expressed doubt that such people would be willing or able to fill the gap.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Alex Richardson

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