The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has approved 5M Construction’s H-2B petitions for 38 foreign workers who will pick up the construction work for Ken Corp.’s stalled luxury hotel project in Tumon.
The 340-room Tsubaki Tower, which is estimated to cost $180 million, is the first civilian project to have received H-2B visa approval under the National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes the hiring of skilled foreign for projects related to the military buildup.
The defense spending law gives the USCIS the flexibility to approve up to 4,000 H-2B visas for pertinent projects.
“The Tsubaki Hotel project is the first private sector project to be designated as being associated with the military realignment and to be approved as such by USCIS. Previous approvals were for government projects,” a press release from the governor’s office states.
Communications director Oyaol Ngiraikl explained that the Civilian-Military Coordination Council has endorsed Tsubaki as a “military buildup-related project” based on the argument that some service members stay at hotels when they are on Guam.
“We would like to thank the Guam Economic Development Authority for their assistance, as well as the Joint Region Marianas for their support of this request to designate this project as military-related,” Lt. Governor Ray Tenorio stated. “In particular, we are grateful to the efforts of (Guam labor officials) Sam Mabini, Greg Massey, and the rest of the team at the Guam Department of Labor who have been working very closely with our private sector and federal partners.”
Ken Corp. broke ground on the Tumon hotel project, located next to Nikko Hotel, in 2016. It was originally anticipated to be completed in October 2018 and scheduled for grand opening in 2019. However, the subsequent labor crisis, resulting from the federal clampdown on H-2B visas for Guam, impeded project progress.
Guam, which was previously exempted from the national cap on H-2B visa, relied on manpower from the Philippines, among other Asian counties, for construction jobs. In December 2015, the USCIS hit the brakes on approval of foreign workers visa petitions from Guam, prompting the local construction industry to sue the federal government in the District Court of Guam.
Gov. Eddie Calvo said the USCIS’ green light for 5M Construction’s visa petitions “is a ray of light for future private sector projects. This is a good sign. Given what we’ve been through with the H-2B program, we remain cautiously optimistic that we’ll hear more good news related to future requests.”
Earlier this year, USCIS approved a total of 654 visa petitions for PHC Corp. for projects at Anderson Air Force Base, but denied Ace Builders’ request for 555 workers.
The governor’s office said the Guam Department of Labor was notified a couple of weeks ago that JMI Edison, which filed a request for 22 workers under the lawsuit, was approved.