Number of foreign workers on Guam highest it’s been in a decade

(PNC graphic by Ricky De Guzman)

The Guam Department of Labor gave an update on the H2B worker situation before the legislature.

Greg Massey, the administrator for GDOL’s Alien Labor Processing and Certification Division, said that the number of foreign workers on Guam is the highest it’s been in about a decade.

But it’s still not where they’d like it to be.

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During a hearing before the legislature Tuesday, Massey said that there are a little more than 1,500 H2B workers on island right now.

And they do expect the numbers to go up in the next fiscal year.

“We’re kind of estimating probably in the range of about 3,140. At least that’s the estimate we have. It’s probably going to get a little higher than that, we’ve got some pent-up demand, so we’re being very cautious in our estimates. As soon as the Manila embassy gets back up to full speed, we’re probably going to see those numbers rise drastically,” Massey said.

The federal government had recently banned the use of foreign workers from the Philippines but has since reauthorized them.

Massey said that the ban had been due to violations of U.S. foreign labor laws in the mainland U.S.

The federal government had been concerned with human trafficking with domestic workers.

However, most H2B workers on Guam are construction workers.

Although such violations weren’t occurring in Guam, Massey said Guam was simply a casualty of the broader federal ruling.

Massey said that this isn’t the only time nationwide issues that don’t pertain to Guam have affected the island negatively.

Massey said that issues with foreign workers overstaying their visas are responsible for the near ban on H2B workers that went into effect in 2016.

He said that even though that wasn’t an issue on Guam, the island suffered because of it.

“That was a national issue. The whole H2B crisis started with the Congress increasing…there’s a cap of workers nationally that can be brought in. In 2015 Congress increased that cap, the unions pushed back, and it started this ripple effect. We were kind of an unintended casualty to that ripple effect,” Massey said.

Massey said there has been relief because of the National Defense Authorization Act.

Recent NDAAs have allowed broader definitions of projects that are related to the military buildup.

Anything related to infrastructure, for instance, is accepted.

However, some types of projects, such as single family homes, are still left out in the cold.

Massey said that if anything, the H2B crisis has emphasized the need to develop work training for the local population.

“There’s also a silver lining. Because we do also need to leave jobs for local workers…and apprenticeship programs…and things like that. We still hope to get some more expansion on the H2 situation. But that’s kind of where we’re at right now. It’s not completely fixed, but we’re maybe 80% fixed,” Massey said.