“This is a completely new line of business for us,” Purton added.
Air Charter Service has also flown almost 1,900 people mostly from Romania into Germany on 13 flights and expects to do more. It has moved 170 migrant farm workers from Mexico to Canada, Purton said.
Germany has agreed to allow a total of 80,000 migrant seasonal workers to enter the country in April and May, provided they pass a health check on arrival, according to a statement from the minister of food and agriculture.
British farms will need up to 80,000 seasonal workers this year, according to the UK’s National Farmers’ Union, which has been campaigning to get furloughed workers and university students to “pick for Britain.”
The UK government is allowing furloughed workers relying on state support to collect wages through a second job and has also introduced a temporary licensing program for employment agencies that want to support food production, according to NFU vice president Tom Bradshaw.
The results have so far been mixed. Concordia, a major recruiter of seasonal farm workers, said that only 5,500 of the 33,500 mostly UK citizens who expressed interest in paid positions on farms have opted to interview for a role. Half of the applicants have lost their livelihoods due to the coronavirus outbreak, Concordia said in a statement.
“Growers that rely on seasonal workers to grow, pick and pack our fresh fruit, veg and flowers are extremely concerned about the impact coronavirus restrictions may have on their ability to recruit this critical workforce this season,” Bradshaw said.
But moving people around is not without risk.
Officials in Germany confirmed Thursday that a seasonal harvest worker from Romania who had been working on an asparagus farm died from coronavirus on April 11. A second person on the farm was found to be carrying the virus and people who have been in contact with the deceased are being monitored by the local health department.
— Fred Pleitgen contributed reporting.