By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero today joined seven U.S. governors who are seeking an increased quota for foreign workers to ease the acute labor shortages in their respective jurisdictions. “Our temporary foreign workforce has long represented an important and valued part of our workforce, but they are even more critical now given the acute labor shortages,” the governors wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden. “We recognize there are many causes of the labor shortage, including some that are outside our control. However, that fact only highlights the importance of the policy solutions we can control,” the governors said.
The letter was signed by Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah, Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero of Guam, Gov. David Ige of Hawaii, Gov. Janet Mills of Maine, Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont. While economies are slowly recovering from the impact of the Covid-10 pandemic, the governors said the labor shortage “is increasingly becoming a serious challenge that threatens the viability of many businesses and ultimately our country’s economic recovery.”
On Guam, the perennial labor shortage is constantly experienced by the construction industry, which continues to enjoy a boom despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
New projects are in the pipeline, most of which are designed to address the needs of the military buildup. However, some are on pause due to the labor shortage.
The onset of the coronavirus pandemic resulted in an increase in the unemployment rate in the U.S., prompting the Biden administration to restrict the entry of temporary foreign workers. “As our economy recovers and we learn more about the unique nature of this recovery, any such justifications for limiting worker visas are long since gone, at least in our states and territories,” the governors said. “Some of our states and territories make active use of the J-1 visa program to power our summer and winter tourism industries—vital economic drivers for our states and territories. Others need more J-1 holders to teach in our public schools’ language immersion programs,” they said. “And still others need additional H-2A visa holders for the agricultural industry and temporary H-2B for a wide variety of other industries,” they added. Recently, the Biden administration announced the availability of an additional 20,000 H-2B temporary nonagricultural worker visas. The governor said they also welcomed Congress’ bipartisan proposal to repurpose unused visas for doctors and nurses, which they said can help ease the stress on the nation’s healthcare workforce. “We want to be clear that we make this request even as we do all within our power to create an economic environment conducive to economic growth,” the governors said. “We are investing in programs to reskill our workforce for the jobs currently in demand, we’re considering various changes to our tax codes that might make work more attractive, we’re supporting impacted businesses, and we’re doing everything else possible to reduce barriers to workforce participation.”
Raising the quota on work visas, they said, will provide “an additional tool to help address our workforce shortages and the cascading economic consequences of those shortages.”