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    Monday, December 9, 2019-12:03:03P.M.






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Guam’s Calvo withdraws support for military buildup

HAGÅTÑA — Citing a labor crisis created by the federal government’s clampdown on the issuance of H-2B visas, Gov. Eddie Calvo said Thursday he was withdrawing Guam’s support for the military buildup.

At the same time, the governor asked the Office of the Attorney General to join in the lawsuit filed last year by the Guam Contractors Association against the federal government over the mass denial of visa applications.

“The federal government has pushed us to this point. We worked so hard to build a local economy that is strong without the military buildup. And after all that hard work, the federal government is now doing everything it can — exercising its enormous powers — to put a halt to all local progress,” Calvo said, speaking at the Rotary Club of Guam’s luncheon meeting at the Pacific Star Resort.

Eddie CalvoEddie Calvo

Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo asked Calvo to calm down, saying his decision “is abrupt and may not immediately solve these challenges.”

“I continue to believe that the buildup will be good for Guam and provide us with opportunities to expand and grow our community—through additional job creation as well as new specialized industries in areas like telecommunications and cyber security,” Bordallo said. “It’s also critical for the continued security of our region, especially in light of growing threats from North Korea.”

Calvo, however, said his decision was not made lightly. “As I’ve stated, we have pursued every possible angle, written scores of letters, spoken to every available person, and we are now at the end of our rope,” he said.

Several construction projects on Guam are currently on hold due to an acute labor shortage that began in January last year when U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services stopped renewing H-2B visas and rejected new applications.

“Despite the military’s and the federal government’s acknowledgement in the Record of Decision of the need for additional foreign laborers to augment the local work force, the Obama administration adopted a new interpretation of labor policies that has created a chokehold on our economy,” Calvo said.

Hundreds of construction workers, nurses and other H-2B visa holders were sent home by their employers last year. Most of them are from the Philippines and China.

From more than 1,000 foreign workers on Guam, the number is now down to 178.

“This is woefully inadequate to meet the need for nearly 4,000 laborers to help construct facilities for the Department of Defense shifting military forces from Okinawa. It’s insufficient even for the organic growth Guam is experiencing outside of the fence — and the buildup adds to the need,” Calvo said.

He noted that when the Department of Defense signed a programmatic agreement, the federal and local governments agreed to a mutually beneficial buildup.

“The idea being what’s good for inside the fence is good for outside the fence. It was the One Guam approach,” he said. “But the federal government hasn’t kept up with its part of the bargain. There has been a breach in the agreement that was made to ensure Guam is not negatively impacted by the shift in military forces.”

Due to the labor shortage, Calvo said contractors are hesitant to commit to projects they can’t be certain they will fulfill by their deadline.

In the past years, Guam was given exemptions from the visa cap in consideration of its limited labor pool. When visa restrictions began last year, Guam officials repeatedly tried to make a case with federal officials and appealed to special consideration, but to no avail.

“I agree that Republicans and the Trump administration have not demonstrated any willingness or initiative to address the unique challenges of our island,” Bordallo said.

Bordallo said she has been working with DOD to stress to USCIS the importance of the H-2B program in order to have an adequate workforce on Guam, adding that she is working to provide legislative relief in this year’s defense bill.

“We successfully included this legislation in last year’s bill, but it was stripped out by the Republican-led Senate. While the Trump administration lacks a clear domestic strategy, I have been and continue to work on a broader permanent solution that will address Guam’s unique workforce challenges,” Bordallo said.

She warned that turning back on support for the military buildup may jeopardize the progress that Guam has attained.

“I hope Governor Calvo is sincere when he says that he wants the buildup to happen, but that the H-2B challenges have forced his hand,” the delegate said. “I will continue to work with him and our stakeholders to push for an H-2B solution as well as advocate for a military buildup that addresses our community’s concerns and provides opportunities that are good for our people. We have had and will continue to have our challenges, but by working together, we will overcome them.”

In a separate statement, the Guam Chamber of Commerce said:

“We too are also very concerned about the high rate of denials of the H-2B foreign worker’s visas; however we don’t believe that removing support of the buildup is the ideal route to take. We believe the buildup is good for Guam both inside and outside the fence, and the H-2B visa labor shortage is bad for Guam both inside and outside the fence. As such, we should continue our One Guam Approach to find a solution to the labor issue for the benefit of all involved.”