The federal government will rebate visa application fees for backpackers and international students heading to Australia in an attempt to address the workforce shortage.

The announcement by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday will target around 150,000 students and 23,500 backpackers who are offshore and already have visas to enter Australia, with the rebates – worth $630 for students and $495 for working holidaymakers – to begin immediately. For those on student visas, the rebate scheme will run for eight weeks, while backpackers will be able to access the rebate for 12 weeks.

He said there are 150,000 international students and 23,500 backpackers with visas and his message was clear – “come on down”.

“We want you to come to Australia and enjoy a holiday here … move all the way around the country,” Mr Morrison said.

“At 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.”

Regarding international students, Mr Morrison said he was encouraging them to be back for the start of the university year as a “thank you for choosing Australia”.

“But we also want them to come here and to be filling some of these critical workforce shortages, particularly those who are working and being trained in health care, aged care, those types of sectors, that will be incredibly helpful,” he said.

The government will also give $3 million to Tourism Australia for a marketing campaign targeting backpackers and students.

Omicron deaths ‘are yet to peak’

It will be several weeks before deaths and hospitalisations from the Omicron variant reach their peak, despite plateauing COVID-19 cases, the nation’s chief medical officer says.

Paul Kelly said despite a challenging few weeks dealing with Omicron, it would be some time before the worst was reached.

“We expect death and hospitalisations to continue to rise over the next couple of weeks as we are about to peak in terms of case loads, particularly in the eastern states,” Professor Kelly told ABC Radio on Wednesday.

“We know from international experience that Omicron rises quickly, it plateaus and then falls quickly, and I fully expect that this will be the experience here in Australia.”

It comes as NSW recorded another 32,297 COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, with a further 32 fatalities.

Meanwhile, Victoria had 18 deaths and 20,769 new infections.

Australia had its highest one-day death toll from the pandemic on Tuesday, with 77 fatalities reported.

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