'Guam buildup is also good
by Saipan Tribune
The planned military buildup on Guam presents job opportunities not only for Guam residents, but for their neighbors as well, a ranking federal official says.
Speaking at the College of Marshall Islands on Thursday, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of insular affairs said that 12,000 to 15,000 skilled workers will be needed to build facilities to accommodate the transfer of 8,000 Marines and 9,000 family members from Okinawa to Guam.
With the limited number of journeyman construction workers that can work on Guam, it is estimated that 75 percent of the workers will have to come from outside Guam, said David B. Cohen.
He said the 50 states could in theory supply the needed labor. But because of Guam's great distance from Hawaii and the U.S. mainland, the federal government is not counting on labor from the 50 states. Another reason is that the pay scale in Guam is generally lower than that in Hawaii and the other states.
Asian and Pacific nations, particularly the Philippines, are other potential sources of labor for the Guam buildup, Cohen said. These countries have more than enough construction workers to satisfy all of Guam's needs. But those workers require H-2B or temporary work visas in order to work on Guam.
Nationally, only 66,000 H-2B visas are issued annually. The Guam requirement for construction workers alone is approximately 20 percent of the nationwide cap.
“Clearly, without a change in the law, our ability to get the needed construction labor from these Asian and Pacific nations-again, excluding the freely associated states-will be very limited,” Cohen said.
He added, however, that a proposal to amend the law is now before the U.S. Congress. He was referring to H.R. 3079, a bill seeking to place the CNMI immigration system under federal control.
Under the committee-approved version of the bill, Guam would be exempt from the national cap on H-2B visas. The exemption would allow Guam to bring in all of the construction workers that could be demonstrated to be necessary for the military buildup or other projects.
But the passage of H.R. 3079 in its current form is not yet certain, Cohen said. He cited two reasons.
“For one thing, the companion bill in the Senate, S. 1634, does not currently include the H-2B visa cap exemption for Guam,” Cohen said.
“Also, the current CNMI administration is funding a vigorous lobbying effort to defeat H.R. 3079, notwithstanding the fact that it would offer the CNMI and Guam unprecedented flexibility within the U.S. system to bring in the workers, tourists and other visitors necessary to build a strong economy. An earlier lobbying effort by the CNMI government in the late 1990s and early 2000 resulted in the House defeating a CNMI immigration federalization bill that had been unanimously passed by the Senate. It should be noted, however, that circumstances are drastically different this time around,” he added.
Citizens of the U.S. territories and the freely associated states represent another potential labor source, Cohen said.
Like U.S. citizens, those of the freely associated states can travel to and work in Guam without obtaining a visa. However, the number of skilled construction workers from both the territories-especially the nearby Pacific territories-and the freely associated states is limited.
“This gives rise to the challenge to train these potential workers as quickly as possible in order to avail of their access advantage for living and working in Guam,” said Cohen.
He added that the advantage currently held by citizens of the insular areas may effectively be erased if H2-B visa caps are lifted for Guam, or if a downturn in the U.S. construction industry were to drive experienced construction workers from the U.S. mainland to Guam.
“In any event, however, if a significant number of workers from the freely associated states could become qualified for skilled construction jobs in Guam, it would be good for the freely associated states and good for the U.S.” Cohen said.
Editor's Note: The complete text of David Cohen's speech is being reprinted by the Saipan Tribune as a series starting today on Page 11.