Manila, Philippines – Governor Lou Leon Guerrero is in the Philippines conducting a slate of meetings related to economic issues of mutual concern and overall Guam-Philippine relations.
Governor Leon Guerrero held a meeting with the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Heather C. Variava at the U.S. Embassy in Manila. The meeting was also attended by the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines Consul General Mark McGovern and representatives of the Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Commerce. Governor Leon Guerrero opened the meeting by recognizing the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines for its work in processing H-2B worker visas and, in particular, the Embassy’s essential role in the Guam Buildup, the Indo-Pacific Strategy, and Pacific Deterrence Initiatives. The group discussed the importance of Filipino H-2B workers to the execution of critical military and civilian construction projects on Guam.
“Guam has seen a dramatic increase in construction projects both inside and outside of the fence. Without these skilled workers from the Philippines supplementing our local workforce, we will not be able to fully realize Guam’s economic potential,” she said. “I also took the opportunity to renew our efforts for a Guam visa waiver program.”
A Guam visa waiver will allow Filipinos to enter Guam without a pre-approved U.S. visa to visit or be employed under the H-2A and H-2B non-immigrant worker programs. Governor Leon Guerrero signed Executive Order 2019-22 to start the process of including the Philippines in the Guam visa waiver program.
“Chargé d’Affaires Variava was very welcoming and understood our situation in Guam. I am very pleased with our meeting. Mr. Paul Taylor, Senior Commercial Officer from the Department of Commerce, and Colonel Edward Evans from the Department of Defense, also expressed their support for a whole-of-government approach to resolving our complex challenges,” said Governor Leon Guerrero, who further shared concerns related to enhancing the safety and security of Guam and the Indo-Pacific region.
“We talked about current geopolitical issues and discussed support for Guam’s food security. About 90 percent of the goods coming into our island come through the Port Authority of Guam. I brought up the Port’s need to replace three gantry cranes, rehabilitate its wharves, and address its aging facilities,” added Governor Leon Guerrero. “We look forward to welcoming more support from the Department of Defense, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Commerce for these critical infrastructure projects,” said the Governor.
Chargé d’Affaires Variava shared that there are currently no issues with the processing of H-2B visas for Guam, but did acknowledge that the U.S. Embassy is addressing the challenges with processing tourist visas to Guam. Variava was very supportive of the Governor’s position on Philippine support to address the labor shortage, which is being accomplished at the same time that Guam is developing more local labor through apprentice training programs. Variava committed to continue prioritizing the visa worker applications.
DOD officials discussed with the Governor the Department of Defense’s military construction budget over the next nine fiscal years, which currently stands at $1.5 billion to $2 billion per year and will include a missile defense system. The group also discussed opportunities to grow Guam’s economy through Governor Leon Guerrero and Vice Speaker Tina Muña Barnes’ transshipment initiatives in coordination with the Guam Economic Development Authority, the Guam Airport Authority, the Port, and the private shipping carriers currently serving Guam.
Immediately following the meeting with the U.S. Embassy officials, Governor Leon Guerrero met with Bernard P. Olalia, Department of Migrant Workers Undersecretary for Licensing and Adjudication. Undersecretary Olalia also serves as officer-in-charge of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). Joining Undersecretary Olalia was Arnaldo Arevalo Ignacio, the new head of the Philippines Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, Philippine Congressman Ron P. Salo, and Philippine-based business women and men interested in competing for business opportunities in Guam.
Governor Leon Guerrero asked the POEA Under Secretary for a labor attaché to be stationed in Guam and to develop a country-specific employment contract, which would protect migrant workers while working in Guam. These issues had been raised prior to the pandemic by Guam Director of Labor David Dell’Islola and former Governor Carl Gutierrez in his capacity as the chairman of Governor Leon Guerrero’s Economic Strategy Council. Governor Leon Guerrero invited Philippine labor officials to visit Guam to meet face-to-face with the Guam Contractors Association and Guam labor officials, with hopes this will provide an opportunity to push forward a plan to the U.S. Federal and Philippine governments.
Governor Leon Guerrero also visited St. Luke’s Medical Center to meet with its senior officials to discuss what could be done within the laws and regulations to rotate doctors and nurse practitioners to augment Guam’s need for additional healthcare workers. In attendance were Dr. Anthony R. Perez, Assistant Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Dennis P. Serrano, Executive Vice President for St. Luke’s One Healthcare System, and Virginia M. Flores, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer.