MANILA Philippines — Sen. Jesse A. Lujan chairman of the Committee on Aviation Immigration Labor and Housing of the 28th Guam Legislature said he will push for an “exemption” from the current immigration cap on foreign workers entering the U.S. in a bid to allow Filipinos to fill in the anticipated demand for workers when the projected housing construction boom on Guam commences with the transfer of some 8 000 American military personnel from Okinawa Japan beginning 2008.

The projected construction boom is also seen as a positive development to ease the unemployment of Filipinos in the Northern Mariana Islands according to a Philippine diplomat.

Separately Filipinos are urged to go to Guam and take national certification examinations for their respective professions to boost their chances of finding work in the U.S. and Guam.

In an exclusive interview with the Journal Lujan said “about 13 000 to 20 000 workers” will be needed for the anticipated construction boom. On July 17 the senator met with Danilo Cruz undersecretary of the Philippine Department of Labor; and discussed the prospects and possibilities to fill in the projected worker shortage on Guam.

“Our meeting went extremely well. He assured me that he was going to send a technical contingency team to Guam next month. He is concerned as well with the H-2 (visa) situation ” Lujan said. Under the U.S. government’s immigration program 66 000 H-2B visas are issued annually. This visa type usually covers unskilled workers in farming and construction.

“I will set up a roundtable discussion with relevant government agencies including federal representatives the Guam Contractors’ Association and work for the lifting of the cap of foreign workers coming in to the U.S. ” he added. “Of that cap Guam is entitled to only 2%. I want to make sure that the needs of Guam are addressed [when the additional military personnel are transferred] and would ask for an exemption from the federal government from this cap.”

Rosalinda Baldoz administrator of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration said she along with a technical staff from the Department of Labor Employment will comprise the technical contingency group that will go to Guam in August.

“We will be meeting with concerned authorities and the Guam Contractors’ Association to brief them about the requirements for recruiting Filipino workers ” she said. Baldoz also met with Lujan on July 18 where she said he briefed her about the “possible job openings” in Guam due to the transfer of U.S. military personnel to Okinawa.

She said in the last eight years about 2 628 Filipino workers were deployed in Guam in mostly professional positions. Last year 321 Filipino workers left for Guam up slightly from 302 in 2004. Of the 321 workers deployed last year she said 50% were “clerical and related workers 48% were “production and related workers” about 2% were “professionals or technicians” and 1% in “services.”

Despite the U.S. prohibition on hiring of foreign workers for military contracts Baldoz said “there are Filipino workers [in U.S. military projects] like in Diego Garcia and Iraq. Some of these projects are joint ventures with Korean and Japanese [contractors].” These contractors in turn hire Filipino workers “because we are known as builders of bridges and roads workers in oil fields in the Middle East etc. ” she said.

According to Baldoz this is why the Philippine government is particularly interested in meeting with the possible contractors and suppliers on Guam. “If ever this will be the first time we will be sending many construction workers to Guam. We still have enough since our economy is down.” Most Filipino construction workers go to the Middle East for jobs.

Baldoz said Lujan was informed that the recruitment process would involve local private recruitment or manpower agencies accredited with the POEA. She said Lujan did not see this as a problem.

On May 25 the U.S. Senate approved an immigration bill that would raise the cap on the entry of alien workers into the U.S. (for skilled workers for example an annual cap of 115 000 under the H-1B visa program from the current 65 000) and creates a “guest-worker program” that would allow foreigners to work temporarily for three years and be eligible for an extension of three years. The guest-worker program would allow the issuance of 200 000 temporary work visas every year.

The move of the 8 000 military personnel to Guam is projected to cost about $10.3 billion as housing units utilities and other infrastructure still need to be constructed. At present the U.S. government prohibits foreigners from working in military projects and contracts.

Wilfredo G. Maximo Philippine Consul General to Saipan; said the move of the U.S. military personnel to Guam would have a positive impact on the Northern Marianas because of the opening up of economic opportunities in Guam.

He told the Journal the current economic slowdown in the NMI has “affected a lot of Filipinos. A lot of them lost their jobs.” While he did not reveal specific numbers on how many are currently employed he said these Filipinos were mostly professionals and supervisory positions.

“This [military transfer] will relieve the present unemployment of Filipinos on Saipan ” he said although he admitted that it could be difficult for the workers to transfer to Guam because they would need an H-1B or skilled workers’ visa. “That means they have to exit Saipan and go back home [to the Philippines] before getting a U.S. visa.”

The U.S. Embassy in Manila doesn’t grant worker’s visas easily and asks applicants to first present a certification and other documents to prove that they were hired by an employer in the U.S. or in this case Guam.

At present alien workers in the NMI who have lost their jobs or have finished their employment contracts usually a one-year term are given 45 days to find another job and transfer to another employer.

Meanwhile Fe Valencia-Ovalles president of the Guam Marianas Training Center said she came to the Philippines “to attract graduates here to train and (take) national certification exams on Guam.”

If they pass the exams she said the newly-certified graduates become “part of the U.S. database” in the Job Referral Program of the National Healthcareer Association. These cover health and medical professions such as pharmacy technicians medical transcriptionists nursing assistants and phlebotomists among others. According to its web site the NHA is the “largest healthcare certification agency” in the U.S. It has certified more than 150 000 health care and medical professionals since 1989.

She said Filipino students would not have difficulty getting a visa to enable them to train or take the national certification exams on Guam. “A U.S. visa is not a problem. All they have to do is present an examination schedule a certificate that they have been accepted for the exams and they will get a student visa (from the U.S. Embassy in Manila). They are usually given two weeks to stay (on Guam).”

Ovalles added that the students who are going to take tests on Guam could also avail themselves of special travel packages from the airlines serving the Philippines-Guam route — Continental Airlines and Philippine Airlines — and hotels such as Holiday Plaza Hotel and Guam Marriott Resort & Spa.

Before arriving in Manila Lujan was on a five-day official visit in Okinawa with other Guam government officials headed by Lt. Gov. Kaleo S. Moylan. The senator said the group met and discussed with Okinawan officials and Japanese lawmakers the impact of the U.S. military base on Okinawa specifically with regard to social issues public safety economic benefits and solid waste issues. Similarly they discussed the impact of the move of the military personnel to Guam.

“We wanted to see what their government’s reaction to the whole thing was…. We looked at the aspects of the build-up [on Guam] and the downsizing in Okinawa how it would affect the civilians [in Okinawa] and what will happen when they downsize and eventually close [the base] ” he said.

Lujan described the talks between the Guam delegation and the representatives from the Diet — the Japanese parliament — and the local Okinawan officials as “a positive thing.” He said that there was a lack of official representation from Guam discussing the matter of the military personnel transfer and said only the U.S. government military and Japanese officials were discussing it. With the Guam delegation’s meeting with their counterparts in Japan “now we have advocates in the Diet and among the locals. They’re the ones who have meetings with the feds. Now they will be able to speak up for the needs of Guam as well ” the senator said.

There is no one official estimate on how much is needed to beef up infrastructure and utilities of Guam in anticipation of the transfer but Lujan said “we don’t have the money.”

He said the Japanese government would shoulder “about 60%” of the total costs of the transfer of the U.S. military personnel. “I can’t speculate on what was talked about (between Japan and the U.S. regarding the cost of the transfer) but the Japanese government also wants to make sure of what they’re paying for and Guam is very close to them.”

The U.S. military’s Pacific Command is currently finalizing the Guam Integrated Military Development Plan. Air Force Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Leaf deputy commander of the Pacific Command and responsible for the plan is scheduled to go to Guam in August for a series of meetings with government officials and community leaders.

Lujan Maximo and Ovalles were among the 37 participants from Guam and Saipan in the Second Ambassadors/Consuls General Tour of the Philippines from July 15 through July 18. The tour is a brainchild of Albert del Rosario former Philippine Ambassador the Washington DC and is conducted jointly by the Departments of Foreign Affairs Tourism and Trade and Industry. MBJ