Australia invites international backpackers to help ease workforce shortage
Australia on Wednesday issued an invitation to international backpackers and students, seeking to reinforce its failing workforce as an Omicron outbreak leads to record high levels of deaths and hospitalizations, straining the country’s healthcare system.
During a televised press conference, Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised an AU$630 (US$453) visa application fee for any backpacker or student who arrives in Australia within the next 12 or 8 weeks accordingly, encouraging them to work as they travel through the country.
“Move all the way around the country, and the same time join our workforce and help us in our agricultural sector, in our hospitality sector, and so many of the other parts of the economy that rely on that labour,” he said, adding that additional AU$3 million will be given to Tourism Australia to support the marketing program.
According to Morrison, there are around 150,000 students currently overseas who have an approved visa to come and study in Australia, as well as 23,500 overseas backpackers who have existing visas to enter the country.
The appeal was issued on the same day the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised against traveling to Australia, as well as other 21 countries around the world, due to the rising number of Covid-19 cases.
The call for international workers comes after Morrison faces a wave of criticism over his handling of the Covid-19 Omicron variant outbreak. The latest poll shows only 41% of Australians approved of his performance in the beginning of the election year.
Australian businesses are struggling with the growing toll of workers on sick leave or isolated as close contacts. The workforce shortage also led to supply chain ruptures, exaggerated by plummeting consumer confidence.
At the same time, Australian healthcare services are under pressure because of rising hospitalizations, with 5,025 people admitted as of Tuesday. On Wednesday, 67 new deaths and nearly 80,000 new cases were detected. Nearly 1.7 million of nearly 2 million cases of the pandemic have been reported in the past month.