By Pacific Island Times News Staff
Guam is currently home to 2,277 skilled foreign workers, the highest number approved for the island under the H-2B visa program since 1997, according to Guam Department of Labor.
Yet, the local construction industry is still grappling with an acute labor shortage, causing delays to several civilian projects due to the restrictive criteria for approving H-2B petitions.
Local officials said all H-2B workers on Guam are currently employed with projects designated as “directly connected to, associated with or supporting” the U.S. military realignment.
“The difficulty of securing workers for local construction projects has presented challenges not only to Guam’s contractors, but also to families building their homes,” acting Gov. Josh Tenorio said.
The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act provides the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service with more flexibility to approve guest worker petitions for projects deemed adversely affected by the military realignment occurring on Guam.
Guam contractors said they have encountered challenges in successfully accessing these criteria.
Local officials are anticipating the USCIS to revise H-2B guidelines for Guam to clarify federal requirements and address the developers’ challenges.
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“As we work together with our federal partners, we are optimistic that we can achieve more H-2B approvals and bolster the ability of contractors to meet the growing needs of our people.," Tenorio said.
Officials said the revised guidance is expected to be published soon.
"We also hope these efforts will lead us to long term resolutions, such as expanding the scope of imported skilled labor to support Guam’s economic diversification," Tenorio said.
A series of discussions began last year between USCIS and Guam labor officials to address the labor shortage on Guam.
"Based on these meetings, USCIS is currently vetting revised policy guidance proffered by GDOL that clarifies federal requirements and includes more local input as part of the adjudication process on H-2B applications," states a press release from the office of the governor.