Guam's labor shortage is easing
Updated: Aug 29, 2022
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Emerging from nearly seven years of labor drought that stalled several projects, Guam has begun to rebuild a stable workforce, with the Guam Department of Labor reporting a record high of 3,000 skilled foreign workers currently stationed on island.
“This number was the largest since 1995,” Labor Director David Dell’Isola said. “That’s what’s boots on the ground now. They started coming during the pandemic and several hundred arrived last weekend.”
He said 97 percent of the H-2B workers pool are from the Philippines, and a few from Korea and New Zealand.
With several military and civilian projects in the pipeline, Dell’Isola expects the number of workers to reach 4,600 H-2B next year and about 5,000 the following year.
In recent years, the local construction industry suffered an acute labor shortage when the federal government removed Guam’s exemption from the 66,000 annual H-2B visa cap nationwide and stopped processing petitions from local contractors in 2016.
“By 2017, we went down to practically zero,” Dell’ Isola said.
New H-2B workers began trickling in when the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act authorized the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to approve 4,000 alien work visa petitions for Guam, but only for projects undertaken by the Department of Defense on military installations.
In the succeeding years, the federal government further eased the hiring restrictions and expanded the lot to include civilian projects designated as “directly connected to, associated with or supporting” the $15 billion military realignment program.
“Government projects, such as roads, fall in this category,” Dell’Isola. “The NDAA allows us to slowly bring H-2B workers. But the private-sector projects are the ones affected because the military projects are taking the pool of H-2B workers who come to Guam.”
The 2021 NDAA provided the USCIS with more flexibility to approve guest worker petitions for projects deemed “adversely affected” by the military realignment on Guam.
Dell’ Isola said the guest workers who arrived on Aug. 22 were petitioned by Core Tech International for the construction of the iLearn Academy Charter School campus in Dededo, and the Sumitomo Mitsui Construction Company for the continuation of suspended work on the Don Don Donki store in Tamuning. Both projects have been approved for “adversely affected” designation.
Dell’Isola said the USCIS’s revised policy guidelines, which clarified the rules for H-2B visa certifications for Guam, paved the way for local contractors to get petition approvals under the “adversely affected” criteria.
The revised guidelines facilitate the availability of supplemental manpower for smaller contractors in the civilian sector who typically engage in home building and smaller infrastructure projects.
Dell’ Isola encouraged other contractors to take advantage of the opportunity to petition for the visa program under the “adversely affected” designation “so that civilian projects can move on.”
“The presence of more skilled workers on Guam paves the way for more affordable housing projects like the one recently announced by a contractor to build over 60 affordable homes in the next year, with plans for up to 350 more in the next 10 years Dell’Isola said.
“We remain dedicated to facilitating the construction of homes and housing projects and increasing our housing inventory to help drive down construction and home costs,” he added.
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said reaching the 3,000-milestone "reinforces that career opportunities are available in the construction industry."
“The governor and I fully support helping our local contractors meet their manpower needs not only to compete for lucrative federal projects but also to service the needs of our community, particularly in the areas of affordable housing and home construction,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Tenorio.