30 Aug 2020 Guam Faces Additional Difficulties Under Presidential Proclamation
The United States government controls immigration on Guam. The US immigration system is a highly contested issue under partisan politics to the point that formal legislation in this area has proven next to impossible in recent history. Therefore, it is common that changes are made through policy or executive order. Against this backdrop, Guam’s reliance on the US immigration system has often placed us in difficult positions, especially when considering that such policy changes and executive orders are often made in consideration of interests relevant to other States before those of our island. Despite President Trump’s efforts to address rising unemployment across the nation due to the Covid-19 pandemic through his recent Presidential Proclamation on June 22,2020, Guam again finds itself in a difficult position.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought its fair share of hardship and uncertainty. There is no exception on Guam with rising unemployment and difficulty for businesses to maintain operations under restrictions ordered by the Government of Guam to combat the spread of the virus. These measures, along with general fear related to travel during the pandemic, have brought our once thriving tourism industry to a screeching halt. As such, the Government’s efforts are often criticized with regard to whether they properly consider the balance that must be maintained between the current wellbeing of our island healthcare system and the future wellbeing of our economic system.
What has remained open in an effort to maintain this balance is the construction industry, and it is certainly true that current military realignment efforts have presented opportunities that can prove lucrative for the island if they can be capitalized on within this industry. Unfortunately, those in the construction industry know that a central challenge to seizing opportunities related to these projects on Guam is accessing qualified labor. The current skilled and professional labor pool on the island cannot meet the demand presented by the efforts that must be made to facilitate the military realignment plans of the United States Government while also maintaining appropriate local infrastructure and housing on island to support these plans. Even with the increase in unemployment, Guam does not possess workers with the proper qualifications to fill these positions. Additionally, education will take time, and will be especially difficult under the current circumstances presented by the pandemic.
The same lack of qualified labor is also true for our healthcare system. Guam is recognized as a medically underserved area by the United States Health Resources & Services Administration. We historically have had an overall lack of qualified physicians, nurses and other medical support staff to meet our island needs. Much of this is due to our location in relation the continental United States. The Covid-19 pandemic has only served to exacerbate this problem with our limited resources working tirelessly on the front lines trying to ensure we remain protected from the virus. With the entire nation facing similar problems, it is even more difficult to recruit workers to assist with our predicament.
Our shortcomings in labor have resulted in a natural reliance on migrant labor from our neighboring countries in both the healthcare and construction industries to meet the demand for their services. Specifically, H1B visas have been used to secure workers in specialty occupations such as doctors, specialized nurses, engineers or accountants. H2B visas have been used to bring skilled workers such as cement masons, heavy equipment operators, nurses or other medical support staff. Multinational companies in both industries may use the L visa category to bring executives, managers or workers with specialized knowledge to adequately oversee operations.
The Presidential Proclamation on June 22, 2020 suspended entry of aliens seeking to come work under H1B, H2B and L visa status until the end of December. Although the Proclamation does not prevent efforts to extend the status of such workers who are already on island, more workers are still needed. Without these workers, it becomes significantly more difficult to maintain the balance of our long-term economic interests against our current public health concerns in attempting to address the Covid-19 pandemic.
Fortunately, there is an exception to the suspension on entry of these workers within the language of the Proclamation for individuals whose entry would be in the national interest of the United States as determined by the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security. However, this is a very vague standard, and guidance from the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security has been slow to come and not completely clear or comprehensive. Additionally, closures of embassy or consular visa services resulting from the pandemic, have made testing what is known of the application of this exception particularly difficult. Therefore, although there does appear to still be a path to obtain much needed labor for Guam, it is fraught with uncertainty.
An immigration attorney is necessary to navigate the complex US immigration system and shifting policies in general. This is especially true in the case of businesses and healthcare institutions seeking to bring workers to meet their needs. In light of the current uncertainty that now plagues these processes under the recent Presidential proclamation, a skilled immigration attorney knowledgeable about Guam’s unique interest is more essential than ever.
This article was authored by Shane F. T. Black.