American passport applicants to join digital age

The U.S. Department of State plans to introduce online passport applications in 2023. In the meantime, the department has allowed a limited number of U.S. passport holders – 25,000 – to apply virtually, rather than in-person or in a paper application.

The third such “pilot program” opened Oct. 11. Applicants must meet 10 requirements.

Applicants must be aged 25 years or older, with a passport that is or was valid for 10 years; the passport must have been issued between 2013 and 2017, must live in the U.S. and must not be traveling internationally for at least six weeks from the date of submission.

Applicants also cannot change any identifying information in the renewal, must not be applying for a tourist passport, must have the ability to pay with a credit/debit card or bank transfer and must have the ability to upload a digital passport photo in a .jpeg file format. 

A fourth opportunity is due in November.

A 2020 BearingPoint study of “digitally mature” countries for passports found Ireland, Singapore, New Zealand, Finland and the U.K. at Level 4, with the whole process of applying for or renewing a passport online. Some supporting documents – including an expired passport are still submitted through a postal service – keeping those countries from the gold standard of Level 5.

The U.S. together with five other countries – is rated at Level 3.

Passport renewals and applications have surged as travel became possible following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Transportation Security Administration screened more than 1.8 million passengers on Oct. 11, compared to 1.3 million last year and 2 million in 2019.  


Passengers rate Hawaii’s airports low on satisfaction scale

J.D. Power’s annual North America Airport Satisfaction Study participants ranked Honolulu International Airport ranked second from the bottom among “large” airports, with 758 points. Honolulu bested only Philadelphia International Airport at the bottom with 729 points. Tampa International Airport ranked highest among “large” airports with 846 points on a scale of 1,000.

Maui’s Kahalui Airport also came second from the bottom among “medium” airports.

Honolulu offers an added lack of satisfaction for passengers from the islands. Those with onward final destinations in the U.S. mainland must clear their luggage in Hawaii.

Minneapolis-Saint Paul ranked top amongst “mega” airports in North American with 800 points. Newark Liberty International Airport – the United Airlines East Coast hub – ranked last with 719 points.

The study found that “Overall customer satisfaction with North American airports fell 25 points to 777 this year amid rampant flight cancellations and crowded terminals. Nearly one-fourth (24%) of travelers said they did not make any food or beverage purchases at the airport because they were too expensive. Some big declines in traveler satisfaction were found in the parking lot, where a shortage of space has caused satisfaction with surface parking lots to decline 45 points from 2021. Meanwhile, 14% of travelers say parking was more expensive than they expected.

The study is based on 26,529 completed surveys from U.S. or Canadian residents who traveled through at least one U.S. or Canadian airport and covers both departure and arrival experiences (including connecting airports) during the past 30 days. Travelers evaluated either a departing or arriving airport from their round-trip experience. The study was fielded from August 2021 through July 2022, according to J.D. Power.

Find the full study here:


DOL fines Guam subcontractor of former base support services contract

The U.S. Department of Labor has recovered $17,164 in back wages from a federal subcontractor who denied full wages and benefits to eight workers providing pest control services at U.S. Air Force and Navy installations in Guam.

The department’s Wage and Hour Division found Pacific Pest Control Inc. of Dededo violated the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act by “failing to pay affected workers the correct wage rates set by federal law for their services. Instead, the employer paid lower hourly rates than those required for pest controllers and failed to fully provide their health benefits as required,” according to an Oct. 13 release from U.S. DOL, CHamoru Standard Time.

 Investigators also found the employer violated the overtime pay requirements under the Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act when the company based overtime calculations on the lower, incorrect wage rates.

During the period of the investigation, Pacific Pest Control Inc. was working as a subcontractor for Defense Base Services Inc. – a member of the Chugach family of companies – on Guam’s Base Operating Support Services contract. This is the consolidated contract for housing operations and maintenance services — known as HOMS and the change of occupancy maintenance services — known as COOMS, according to Journal files.

A joint venture of Core Tech International and Galaide Professional Services Inc. took over management of the contracts from Aug. 1, according to Journal files.


Tourism updates:

The Guam Visitors Bureau announced arrivals for fiscal 2022 at 216,915 visitors, with 28,028 visitors for the month of September 2022, up 388.7% from last year.

GVB reported 1,631,049 visitors for fiscal 2019.

“Taxes generated because of tourism were at $253 million in 2019, then decreased to $125 million in 2020, and subsequently to its lowest in 2021 at $57 million (-77.5%).

“Tourism-related jobs grew to 23,100 in 2019. However, the number of jobs supported decreased by nearly half to 12,425 jobs (-46.2%) in 2021,” GVB said in an Oct. 13 release.

“The total economic impact that tourism has had in Guam also changed dramatically. It generated $2.4 billion in total sales in 2019, $776 million in 2020, and $306 million in 2021,” GVB said.

The Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands reported a 21.  average occupancy rate among its 12 member hotels for September, compared to a 26% average occupancy in September 2021. The actual number of rooms sold is 20% higher than last year, as more hotels and more rooms have reopened. A total of 11,891 of 56,729 available room nights sold during September, compared to 9,915 of 37,617 available rooms sold in September 2021. Average room rates have also increased in the last year to $154.61 in September, compared to $144.98 last September, according to an Oct. 13 release from HANMI.

HANMI reported a 66.15% average occupancy for September 2019, with average room rates at $138.79. 


FSM and US ink agreement to combat unwanted maritime activity

Representatives of the Federated States of Micronesia and the U.S. signed a remote shiprider agreement on Oct. 13, during a Joint Committee Meeting hosted by Joint Region Marianas.

“… this agreement, the first of its kind, will enable the U.S. to act on behalf of the country to combat illicit maritime activity when an FSM law enforcement officer is not present. More specifically, the agreement provides a coordinating mechanism and process for U.S. law enforcement personnel to work with the FSM National Police through command centers to receive approval from the FSM to act,” an Oct. 13 release from the U.S. Coast Guard said.

Shiprider agreements allow maritime law enforcement officers to observe, board, and search vessels suspected of violating laws or regulations within a designated exclusive economic zone or on the high seas.

The shiprider program supports regional coordination and aligns with the National Security Strategy, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command efforts, and the U.S. Coast Guard’s Operation Blue Pacific, the release said.

In other news from the FSM, the Office of the President released Oct. 12 the latest COVID-19 report. Almost all 24 fatalities in Chuuk are attributed to old age and/or comorbities, according to an Oct. 13 advisory.

FSM citizens aged 65 or older can register for the Asian Development Bank-funded CASH Power Assistance Program, which provides one $100 in “direct utility assistance, such as prepaid electrical power cards,” according to an Oct. 13 release from the Office of the President. Eligible citizens were urged to do so by Oct. 20 in case demand exceeds supply. The program was developed by President David W. Panuelo, according to the release.


Guam Sanitation reports continue with a suspension and reinstatement

The Guam Department of Public Health’s Division of Environmental Health inspected eight facilities between Oct. 3 and 9. These included a restaurant, four temporary food establishments, and a manufacturer and retailer of water – all of which saw notations, some of which were corrected immediately. Merizo Papa Niyok store saw its sanitary permit reinstated. The pool at Summerville Residences in Tamuning saw its sanitary permit suspended.


And also:       

The Government of Guam will release $19.3 million for Cost-of-Living Allowance payments to 8,766 GovGuam retirees and survivors, who will receive $2,200 each. Due on Nov. 1, payments will be made on Oct. 15. The disbursement is in accordance with Public Law 36-107, according to a release from the Office of the Governor, which said payments have previously been released earlier than the due date.

Guam Memorial Hospital Doctors Christian Eusebio and Alexandra Leon Guerrero “are performing minimally invasive laparoscopic procedures” at GMH, according to an Oct. 12 release.

The benefits to laparoscopic surgery “include shorter hospital stays, faster recovery, less pain and bleeding following surgery, and reduced scarring. Laparoscopic surgery is used to treat hernias, perform appendectomies, gallbladder removal, colon surgery, stomach surgery, and fundoplication, a procedure used to treat acid-reflux surgery.” Laparoscopic surgery is also used to treat obesity and related health issues like diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, hypertension, heart disease, and stroke.

In related news, GMH also said Oct. 12 although it had experienced a higher-than-usual number of pediatric patients admitted to the hospital due to the current cold and flu season, the number has been steadily decreasing. The high volume is attributed to the current cold and flu season. The increased number of pediatric patients is also being experienced throughout the US. “Some pediatric patients who have recovered from COVID-19 continue to experience respiratory issues that are affecting the seriousness of seasonal influenza. Patients with other underlying issues, like asthma and allergies, are also susceptible to more serious cases,” the hospital said. “All pediatric patients receive excellent care despite surges in the number of sick children. GMHA has three pediatricians on staff and access to additional physicians via telemedicine. GMHA recently hired an additional pediatrician who will arrive in December and four other pediatricians have accepted offers and are expected to join GMHA soon,” GMH said.

The Saipan Chamber of Commerce is calling for members to join its standing committees. Those are the Armed Forces Committee, the Government Relations Committee, the Education and Workforce Development Committee and the Events Committee.

GTA named its 2022- 2023 Youth Leader finalists and overall winners.  The program started in 2019 and an awards ceremony was held Oct. 12 at the GTA Experience Center in Tamuning.

Each finalist receives a premium smartphone and a GTA mobile plan for the academic year. The 2022 – 2023 GTA Youth leader finalists are Tavion Duenas, junior, Guam High School; Scott Aflague, senior, Okkodo High School; Sophia Espaldon, senior, Harvest Christian Academy; Bree Alyssa Collins, senior, Guam High School; – Alexander Gayle, senior, St. John’s School; Amber Pineda, junior, Academy of our Lady of Guam; Anherutowa Calvo, senior, George Washington High School; and Bianca Borja, junior, John F. Kennedy High School. 

In addition to the premium smartphone and a GTA mobile plan for the academic year, two Overall Winner received a $1,000 cash scholarship and 160,000 United Airline Miles. They are Mark Wang, senior, St. John’s School and Cheyunne Ahn, senior, Southern High School.


For your diary:

Oct. 14 – Action PAC Guam is hosting the Hard Rock the Vote event at the Hard Rock Cafe in Tumon from 7 p.m. to midnight, sponsored by Ambros Inc.

The event is a voter registration drive to “encourage Guam’s young voters, specifically Millennial and Gen Z voters ages 18-38, to register and vote early or on Election Day,” according to an Oct. 13 release from the political action group. 

According to the Guam Election Commission, in 2020, Guam had 55,000 total registered voters. Of that number, voters 18-38 – who are generally thought to make up half of the island’s population, made up less than 25% of Guam’s voting body, Action PAC said.

Admission is free to voting-aged residents who present proof of voter registration or register to vote at the door and follow @actionpacguam on a Facebook or Instagram.  Voters can go to to confirm if they are registered to vote. They can present a screenshot of the confirmation as proof to enter the event for free. 

It is recommended that residents register to vote prior to arriving at the Hard Rock the Vote event to expedite their entry. Residents can register online at URL, and it take about 12 minutes to complete the process. The entertainment lineup includes Lil Meish, Jay Edwards, and KPV and The Homies. mbj