03 Jan 2018
- Mar-Vic Cagurangan – For Variety
HAGÅTÑA — Guam is entering year 2018 with a robust economy which now stands at $5.8 billion, Gov. Eddie Calvo said in his New Year’s message.
“This past year, we achieved success, and we faced challenges along the way — but not once did we give up. Building on the successes we’ve made in the last few years, we continued to push for progress and a better tomorrow. The executive branch has worked with the public and private sectors, and you, our people,” said Calvo, who is serving his last year in office.
“As a result, we’ve seen our economy improve — more businesses, more jobs, and an increased GDP — to the tune of $5.8 billion. We’ve repaved village roads, started construction on a shelter for our foster children and a Guam Police Department precinct in Sinajana, and have worked with our community to safeguard our families and remove illegal drugs from our streets and homes,” he added.
However, in order to further build on the island accomplishments, Calvo said there are many issues that require better attention from national leaders.
Citing the need for Guam to have “a constant and consistent presence” in Washington D.C., the governor seeks to hire a lobbying firm that will advocate for the territory’s issues and concerns in the nation’s capital.
Besides a non-voting delegate to Congress, Guam also has a liaison office in Washington, D.C., but Calvo said the island’s issues have not been given much attention.
“We’re at a disadvantage as we don’t have a vote in Congress,” Calvo said. “And in my seven years of visiting Washington, D.C. it has become more apparent that we need to have a constant and consistent presence; people who are able to track conversations, voice our objections, and inject our concerns and solutions into the discussion before new policies are cemented.”
The governor’s office has published a request for proposals soliciting a firm or organization to provide multiple lobbying and consulting services.
Calvo said the labor crisis on Guam underscores the need to have a lobbyist who can effectively communicate the island’s situation.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has stopped approving new H2B visa petitions and renewals since December 2015. Despite repeated pleas from local officials and industry leaders, the federal government has declined to restore the H2B visa-cap exemption that Guam enjoyed for many years.
“The H2B issue has reached a crisis point. We’ve been knocking on doors, sending letters, and making phone calls. The president’s chief of staff is working with us but the bureaucracy continues to block our path with red tape,” Calvo said.
The newly signed National Defense Appropriation Authority for 2018 includes a provision that allows the USCIS the discretion to approve up to 4,000 H2B visas, but only for defense projects related to the military buildup. With less than 100 H2B workers left on island, many civilian projects are on pause.
“With a lobbyist, we can effectively communicate our concerns; our message will have a constant presence in the Capitol,” Calvo said. “The rejection of H2B visa applications is one of the immediate issues facing our island. The change in USCIS’ interpretation of existing policy literally required an act of Congress just to ensure it didn’t continue to threaten national defense. A lack of skilled foreign workers has slowed construction projects and meant contractors didn’t have the labor force needed to take on new projects, such as Guam Memorial Hospital’s maternity-ward renovation, and even a Department of Defense project.”
Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/101208-guam-s-calvo-to-hire-dc-lobby-firm