02 Apr 2018
- By Mar-Vic Cagurangan – For Variety
HAGÅTÑA — U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has approved a defense contractor’s 162 petitions for H-2B visas for foreign workers who will perform jobs for a military buildup-related project.
The approval of PHC Corp.’s petitions represented the first batch of the 4,000 H2B visa slots authorized for Guam under the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.
The approved H-2B petitions are for 128 carpenters, five construction equipment mechanics, seven electricians, eight plumbers and four welders.
Greg Massey, administrator of the Guam Department of Labor’s Alien Labor Processing and Certificate Division, said USCIS’ approval of PHC’s petitions was the first since November 2016.
PHC is still awaiting the immigration agency’s action on 171 more positions for three occupations: cement masons, heavy equipment operators, and iron workers, Guam labor officials said.
The NDAA’s exemption on visa restrictions for Guam applies only to projects that are related to the military buildup. Visa restrictions have not been lifted for civilian projects outside of the military installations.
Gov. Eddie Calvo, nevertheless, welcomed the approval of the fist set of petitions. “This is good news,” he said. “This is the first test case of the NDAA visa approval process and we weren’t certain how USCIS would respond to these petitions.”
“The second big test would be the federal agency’s response to petitions for skilled workers for outside-the-fence projects,” Calvo said.
Last week, the governor signed an endorsement for Ace Builders’ petition for 555 skilled workers for a civilian project.
“I am pleased USCIS has begun approving H2-B visas for Guam businesses,” Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo said. “This is exactly what my provision in last year’s defense bill was intended to do, and it is encouraging that our local companies are beginning to see the benefits of this federal law.”
At the Guam Industry Forum hosted by the Society of Military Engineers last month, Gov. Eddie Calvo reiterated his position on not supporting the military buildup “until the immediate immigration mandates applied to Guam are seriously adjusted to reflect equity and calculation and access to foreign workers to build Guam’s infrastructure.”
The $8 billion military buildup on Guam, which has been delayed many times, is on track to begin by 2024, according to Joint Region Marianas officials. Japan has turned over its $2.8 billion share of the relocation cost.
For this year, the Department of Defense has approved $354 million in military construction on Guam for this year. Guam’s delegate to Congress, Madeleine Bordallo, said about $375 million in projects are expected to be approved next year.
While Guam may be familiar with acute labor shortages, the past two years have been particularly taxing for an island that is largely dependent on foreign manpower for certain jobs. Some developers have halted projects after sending home hundreds of foreign workers whose visas were not renewed and having failed to secure visas for new workers.
Calvo earlier said Guam has an estimated $5.5 billion worth civilian construction work during the next five years. According to local labor officials, there are less than 100 H2-B workers left on Guam — from more than 1,400 two years ago.
According to the U.S. Navy’s environmental impact statement, the operative number of required workers at the peak of the military buildup is 5,000 people. Historically, Guam was exempted from the 66,000 H2 visas a year quota nationwide in consideration of the military buildup vis-a-vis the island’s scarce labor pool. Since December 2015, the trend in denying visa petitions and renewals became noticeable. There has been a zero visa-approval rate since 2016.
Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/103340-feds-ok-162-h2b-visa-petitions-for-guam