Germany to let in foreign farm workers after alarm over coronavirus border closures

The German government reached an agreement Thursday to allow urgently needed foreign seasonal workers to enter the country to help with fruit and vegetable harvests, after borders slammed shut to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Germany to let in foreign farm workers after alarm over coronavirus border closures
A harvest worker helps pick strawberries in Groppendorf, Saxony-Anhalt, in May 2019. Photo: DPA

Around 40,000 foreign workers will be allowed to come and work in Germany in April and May, agriculture minister Julia Klöckner said in Berlin, calling the move “important and good news for our farmers”.

Farmers across Germany had been sounding the alarm after the government last week barred entry to seasonal workers from abroad as part of measures to stem the spread of COVID-19.

READ ALSO: Germany bans foreign farm workers over coronavirus


Around 300,000 seasonal workers come to Germany each year, mainly from Poland and Romania, to help with harvesting crops such as asparagus and strawberries.

Both are beloved crops in Germany. During Spargelzeit (asparagus season), the crop typically appears en masse at supermarkets and weekly markets, and has restaurant menus devoted to it.

Around the same time, strawberry trucks and kiosks show up even in the middle of Germany's cities to sell the sweet crop. 

A seasonal worker helps with the asparagus harvest in Weiterstadt, Hesse on March 20th, 2019. Photo: DPA

Under the new deal, workers will have to travel by plane and employers will be required to carry out health checks when they arrive.

New arrivals will also have to live and work separately from other workers for 14 days and will not be permitted to leave the company premises.

Social distancing will be maintained during the work, and where this is not possible masks and gloves must be worn.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said the government had found “a way to reconcile the health protection of the population and the securing of harvests”.

The government has also announced measures to ease red tape around the hiring of new workers in the sector, and to allow workers that are available to work for longer.

READ ALSO: Spargelzeit: German farmers raise alarm as coronavirus border closures impact seasonal workers

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EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point.