The House's version of the NDAA includes H-2b authorization for Guam's civilian projects

CONSTRUCTION: Widening and other improvements on Route 3 were underway on March 24. Post file photo

Guam's first batch of skilled workers from Mexico under the federal H-2B visa labor program arrived in April and completed their mandatory 14-day quarantine on Tuesday.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Guam has seen only two new H-2B worker arrivals and they're the ones from Mexico, according to Greg Massey, administrator for the Guam Department of Labor's Alien Labor Processing and Certificate Division.

Massey said the two H-2B workers from Mexico were "medically cleared" on Tuesday.

After their Wednesday registration, they can start working.

Guam Pacific Mechanical and Electrical confirmed on Wednesday that the workers they hired from Mexico are now on island.

This is the first time that any employer on island has tapped H-2B workers from Mexico, at least in the 30 years that Massey has been with the Guam Department of Labor.

Guam's contractors started looking for skilled labor beyond the Philippines when the federal government started denying H-2B applications from the country.

Massey said Guam now has 1,470 H-2B workers, "which is back up to our normal pre-denial crisis numbers."

In 2016, the Guam Contractors Association and nearly a dozen businesses sued the federal government for denying nearly all petitions to hire H-2B workers for the island, when H-2B petitions under the same set of facts were approved in the past.

Employers were able to get approvals for their H-2B petitions again in 2018.

"More applications have been submitted and we expect the numbers to continue increasing after airline operations normalize," Massey said.

At the onset of the public health emergency, Labor communicated with H-2B employers and asked them to limit their new arrivals until after the public health emergency is over, Massey said.

"For the most part, employers have voluntarily taken all the necessary steps to keep their workers safe and healthy, without any strong direction from GDOL," he said. "Kudos to the H-2B contractors who have shown great diligence in keeping their workers safe."

During this pandemic, Guam Labor continues to monitor the workforce and has been asking employers to advise the department as to any incidents.

"To our knowledge, no employers have reported any instances of positive COVID cases within the H-2B workforce," Massey said.

Amid the pandemic, Guam Labor has maintained all processing requirements by extensive teleworking and task-based in-office work.

"The H-2B program is functional and strives to maintain the legal status of all existing workers. Processing times are slightly slower and employer access is limited to appointment-only contacts, but staff have been diligent to minimize any significant delays and we have met all critical deadlines," Massey said.

As to President Trump's April 22 executive order restricting immigration for a period of 60 days because of the coronavirus pandemic, Guam's H-2B program is not affected by that decision, according to Massey.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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