Workforce uncertainties could wobble Guam’s economic legs


Guam previously enjoyed a nearly 100 percent approval rate and was exempted from the annual national cap of 66,000 H-2B visas. Historically, construction companies recruit temporary workers to boost their local workforce.

Along with tourism, U.S military spending prop up Guam’s economic stool, but recent developments regarding the receding of a proposed amendment to the 2017 National Defenses Authorization Act lifting restrictions on temporary workforce recruitment could destabilize growth in this sector.

Guam stands to receive $248.658 million worth of military projects this year under the federal budget legislation. But while funds for projects are to be made available, manpower remains a challenge. The Senate thumbed down Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo’s request to provide the US Customs and Immigration Service with flexibility in administering the H-2B program on Guam.

Guam previously enjoyed a nearly 100 percent approval rate and was exempted from the annual national cap of 66,000 H-2B visas. Historically, construction companies recruit temporary workers to boost their local workforce. But the spate of H-2B visa disapprovals, which has reached more than 90 percent, and now the NDAA amendment drop, further crippled chances of recruiting enough skilled workers. Before the passage of the agreement, a dozen local companies from construction and other industries filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government in the District Court, with a hearing expected to be held this month.

The FY2017 NDAA authorizes funding for military construction projects, including $78 million military housing project in Andersen Air Force Base, and $8.5 million for energy conservation projects, among others. A dearth of skilled workers will definitely impact capacity to fulfill construction timelines and other requirements.

Funding appropriations imply an increase in construction activity but actual project schedules and amounts may vary. In the “Economic Outlook for Guam Fiscal Year 2016,” Gary Hiles, chief economist at the Department of Labor, noted that “an analysis of the FY 2010 defense appropriations for construction found the lag from the time of appropriations to con