Feature Story

H2-B workers hope to be back on Guam

Dededo, Guam Village Center Photo © www.guampedia.com
Dededo, Guam Village Center Photo ©

HAGÅTÑA — About a dozen construction workers clustered outside their barracks at Ukudu Workers Village in Dededo, bantering with one another, some puffing cigarettes as they waited for the bus that would take them to the airport.

“Guam has been a great experience for me,” said Norbert Valerio, an electrician who worked for Core Tech International/Ace Builders for 16 months. “I may be away from home, but there are a lot of Filipinos here so it feels quite like home.”

Valerio was among the first batch of 380 workers whom Core Tech has to repatriate to the Philippines due to U.S. Customs and Immigration Services’ denial of their visa renewals and extensions. “This is my first overseas job,” said Valerio, a native of Cainta, Rizal, a province east of Manila.

With two children to raise, Valerio couldn’t afford to wait or waste time. Before his repatriation, he had set up a new job back home. “I already have a new employer and will continue my work as an electrician,” Valerio said. “But if I get a chance to come back, why not. Yes, I’d like to come back to Guam.”

The local construction industry relies heavily on off-shore manpower, especially from the nearby Philippines. But the shrinking quota of H-2B visas is threatening to jeopardize several construction projects on Guam.

Valerio was scheduled to leave Guam with his brother, Randy Valerio, also an electrician for the same company. “I have to leave because there is no visa issuance,” said Randy Valerio, who came to Guam in March 2015. “My boss applied for a visa renewal but it was rejected by the federal government.”

Before his stint on Guam, Randy Valerio worked in Qatar. “I’m going back to Samal, Bataan to be with my family,” he said.

Earlier this year, Guam Delegate to Congress Madeleine Bordallo introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2017 to give USCIS flexibility in renewing H-2B visas on Guam, specifically for workers in the construction and healthcare sectors. While a congressional solution for military-related projects is eventually inserted in the Fiscal 2017 NDAA, the law likely won’t be implemented until April 2017 at the earliest.

“I’ll wait for the company to call me again, hopefully,” Randy Valerio said.

While working on Guam allowed him to make more money that he would have in the Philippines, he said he hasn’t saved enough to secure the education and future of his three children. “But I am thankful to this company for giving me this break, I hope I get a chance to come back,” he said.

Meanwhile, Guam Delegate t Madeleine Z. Bordallo wrote to USCIS Director Leon Rodriguez urging him to provide immediate regulatory relief to address the continued H-2B challenges on Guam.

Bordallo reiterated her concern that the high rates of H-2B renewal denials are impacting Guam’s workforce and will adversely affect Guam’s construction and health industries, among others, including ongoing and future projects related to the military build-up and associated civilian infrastructure projects.

While seeking to address these challenges through federal legislation, Bordallo said she believes that immediate action by USCIS is required to ensure that Guam continues to have an adequate workforce to meet current and future demands for labor. She underscored that language she included in the House-passed National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 should indicate Congressional intent for the H-2B program on Guam moving forward, and urged Rodriguez to use regulatory authority to defer action on H-2B cases on Guam.

She noted that stalling projects because of a lack of a qualified workforce from the denial of H-2B visas could negatively impact the realignment of Marines to Guam as well as jeopardize local civilian infrastructure projects.

“I am deeply concerned about the continued denials of H-2B visas on Guam and the adverse impact they are having on our community,”Bordallo said.

“While I have appreciated the dialogue I have had with USCIS to address this issue, more needs to be done administratively to ensure we continue to have a viable workforce that is able to meet current labor demands. I am especially concerned by recent news that Core Tech will be sending nearly 400 workers back to their country because of denials of their visa renewals as well as by Guam Department of Labor’s estimate that less than 100 H-visa workers will be on Guam at the end of the year,” she added.

This article was also featured on Marianas Variety (http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/89041-h2-b-workers-hope-to-be-back-on-guam)

Mar-Vic Cagurangan
A product of the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Arts and Letters, Mar-Vic is a veteran reporter who covered various Metro Manila beats, including Malacanang Palace. She is currently Beyond Deadlines' resident writer in Guam. Mar-Vic is also the publisher of Pacific Island Times.

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