Experts share views on the H-2B program

The Philippines is again allowed to send H2B workers to the United States. (PNC file photo)

When you hear the term ‘H-2B Worker’, what comes to mind? More than likely, you’re thinking construction. But the temporary visa employment program is pervasive –  a catch-all status.

It is applicable to a diverse array of industries and occupations, like nurses and other healthcare positions, massage therapists, and even those in the baking business. For example, Guam Bakery qualified under the program to bring in a baker from the Philippines as they are contracted to provide bread for the military.

So what’s the crux with construction? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the main concern of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or USCIS are the workers who abuse the program – those who over-stay past their contract or migrate to the other states. USCIS is also concerned with the threat of human trafficking.

However, according to research, the overstay violations in Guam represent only 1 to 2 percent of the total problem. Regardless of this fact, the USCIS’ decision affects H-2B visa applications in all districts.

How does this negatively impact the continuity of the construction industry on Guam? According to Bert Johnston, Guam Trades Academy education director, the billion-dollar military buildup is sucking up the local workforce, which stifles, and in some cases, shuts down civilian projects. Johnston explained that the H-2B program helps to balance the supply and demand.

“You don’t want an economy that’s all local versus one that’s all foreign. You want to have a balance that’s in-between because both of them are tools that are necessary for the workforce to be able to pull things off,” Johnston said.

According to the Guam Contractors Association (GCA), there are approximately 5,000-6,000 locally-based construction workers but the added activity on the federal side requires an additional  1,000-2,000 heads. This is where the ‘B’ in the H-2B provides the balance.

Understanding that the skilled worker visa program mitigates construction workforce demands, the combined efforts of the GCA lawsuit and our maga’haga’s meeting with federal officials are key signals to the officials in Washington D.C. that Guam’s specific needs are legitimate grounds for reconsideration for USCIS approvals.

The White House is working with us so far, PNC will continue to track this issue and keep you updated.