Ludwig-Uhland-Institut für Empirische Kulturwissenschaft

Antonia Jeflea: Bidirectional migration routes of the Romanian seasonal and transnational workers during the COVID-19 pandemic (Provisional title)

First supervisor: Prof. Dr. Reinhard Johler
Second supervisor: Prof. Dr. Narcisa Știucă

“For over a month, every recruitment agency that I have called told me to come back after COVID-19 pandemic. But the Romanian citizen doesn’t eat after COVID-19, he eats when he is hungry” (Inclusiv, 2020). The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic brought into the spotlight the precariousness of migrant seasonal workers.

Thousands of Romanian citizens travelled to Germany and Austria in April, while the lockdown measures taken by the government were in full force, at the height of COVID-19 pandemic. In Germany they have mainly been working as harvesters in asparagus farms, while in Austria they have been working as nursing personnel for elderly and children. Besides them, a wide community of Romanian workers was represented by the transnational workers, mainly employees working in transport and delivery companies. This research, bringing together studies of migration, politics, and medical anthropology aims to understand the Romanian seasonal workers' dynamics in German-speaking countries, during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. The international epidemiological situation led to numerous Romanian seasonal workers waves returning to the country in March, being reversed afterwards, conducting to mass travelling back to host countries.

Many of these workers were hired by intermediary human resources agencies, with temporary contracts, restraining them from obtaining a full work permit or residency in the host country. Thus, the blue-collar jobs offered allow these companies to grow economically while limiting migrants from having full social and labour rights in the origin or the host country.

Considering the social distancing measures, as well as the quarantine or self-isolation imposed by certain regions or countries during the COVID-19 pandemic, a considerable amount of workers, hired with various types of contracts, were left without employment. Relating to the fact that many of these workers were hired via an intermediary hiring agency or more, some cases ended in not benefiting from any social protection, albeit Germany, for example, offers a model of social protection for migrants in the European Union (Brickenstein, 2015).

The distribution of seasonal work, as well as tracing the epidemiological risks related to COVID-19 pandemic has been portrayed either as a salvation boat or a modern slavery tool especially in the digital environment, on social networks.

Although media and social networks such as Facebook as well as groups of labour activists have revealed some aspects of the seasonal workers’ dynamic, there is a plethora of fields to ethnographically research to generate a holistic understanding of this phenomenon. Furthermore, the analysis could bring a comprehension key on how the involved actors understand this transnational space and the ways in which it is governed, contested, and lived.