Australia's government has invited backpackers and students to seek work in the country. "Backpackers" are mostly younger people who travel in a simple way and do not spend very much money.
The move is an effort to fill critical workforce shortages as Australia faces an outbreak of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday said his government would not require backpackers or students arriving in the next several weeks to pay the usual $453 visa cost. He also urged such visitors to seek work as they travel around the country.
"Come on down now because you wanted to come to Australia," Morrison said during a televised press conference.
He added that the backpackers and students could seek work in agriculture, hospitality and "so many other parts of the economy" that lack enough workers.
The announcement comes as Morrison faces criticism at the beginning of an election year. Critics say he has not done well in dealing with the Omicron outbreak.
Australia is experiencing record numbers of new infections and deaths. Officials in Australia reported 67 new deaths and nearly 80,000 new cases on Wednesday. Chief Health Officer Paul Kelly said Australians should expect the pandemic's total death numbers to rise.
Australian businesses are struggling with the growing number of workers who are sick or ordered to isolate. The labor shortage has led to supply shortages. Food stores have put in place purchase limits on some goods.
Rising hospitalizations have put pressure on the health system. Nearly 1.3 million cases of the country's total of 1.6 million cases have been reported in the past two weeks.
Morrison is also facing criticism over the shortage of at-home rapid tests. On Wednesday, he urged state leaders to drop any requirements for workers in most industries to take daily rapid tests. The federal government also promised to buy 52 million tests this month from Asia and the United States.
As the country faces a shortage of tests, police on Wednesday said 42,000 tests worth about $500,000 were stolen from a freight station in Sydney.
I'm Ashley Thompson.