Editorial: Billion-dollar projects call for urgent solution to labor shortage issue
Based on recent public announcements, Guam is at the cusp of another major construction boom, fueled primarily by both the private sector and the military.
The owner of Windward Hills golf course plans to develop a 488-unit executive housing development in the golf course area. Just recently, the Pago Bay Ocean Resort project’s 300-unit proposed mid-rise condominium buildings went through another hearing with the Guam Land Use Commission.
And also recently, the owner of Onward Mangilao Golf Club filed a request with the local government to amend its master plan to include residential units within the golf course.
On the military side, the Naval Facilities Engineering Command recently announced that almost $1 billion in military housing projects would be developed in the island's military bases over the next 10 years. The military already is at the beginning of development for an $8 billion-plus Marine Corps base construction in Dededo’s Finegayan area, as well as support facilities for the relocation of about 5,000 Marines from Okinawa.
With billions of dollars in construction projects at stake, Guam officials need to openly discuss the specific steps they’re taking to address the issue of a lack of skilled construction workers.
The governor has acknowledged that construction projects have slowed because of a lack of skilled construction manpower, which used to be supplemented by imported foreign labor on H-2B visas.
Uphill battle for H-2B visa approvals
However, the federal immigration desks in California that process these petitions for H-2B labor from Guam have reversed course from a nearly 100 percent approval rate to a near-100 percent denial rate over the past year or so.
There used to be 1,500 workers on H-2B visas in Guam about a year ago, now the total is down to about 300, according to previous information from the governor’s office.
The governor recently met with USCIS’ director in Washington, D.C., and it still remains to be seen whether the meeting will reverse the high rate of H-2B visa denials for Guam projects.
Though the governor is a big Trump supporter, he faces an uphill battle trying to convince the Trump White House to allow Guam to continue getting skilled construction labor from foreign sources in light of the president’s slogan, which is “Hire American” workers first.
There should be weekly updates from the administration on this labor shortage issue, similar to how it hosts a “coffee table” meeting almost weekly to make its financial team available for reporters' questions.
If it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. Transparency can only help foster sharing as a possible way to solve this dilemma, and the private-sector may be able to offer ideas to help the thinkers in GovGuam.