Guam leaders increasingly are acknowledging that the Philippines, South Korea and China are the most likely source of the some 20,000 skilled construction workers needed to build facilities for the 8,000 Marines due to arrive from Okinawa.

But for the U.S. territory to open its doors to such laborers, Congress would have to repeal a law barring use of foreign workers on Guam’s military bases.

House officials approved language for a repeal in their version of the 2007 National Defense Authorization Act. When asked by Stars and Stripes, key Guam officials indicated they were unaware of it.

House and Senate panels were meeting last week to try to reconcile their versions of the bill; no date for a vote had been set.

The 10 words were added after House Armed Services Committee leaders talked with military leaders, according to a statement from Guam Del. Madeleine Bordallo, who asked that the language be included in the defense budget bill.

She said many felt the needed construction couldn’t be done on time unless the labor restrictions were lifted.

Under current plans, relocating the Marines from Okinawa to Guam would entail about $10 billion of construction.

Marines and their families plus civilian support employees are to start arriving in 2008, in a realignment to be completed by 2014.

Efforts to train local workers and recruit workers from the States — particularly Guam natives — have been stepped up.

“All parties agreed that the priority for hiring will be the local work force on Guam,” Bordallo said. “But the amount of work expected on Guam will likely require additional labor.”

The island now has about 5,000 construction workers.

A spokesman for Gov. Felix Camacho said that while the governor was unaware of the provision, he fully supports it.

The foreign-worker prohibition was introduced in the early 1990s by Robert Underwood, Guam’s congressional delegate at the time. Underwood, currently the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, also said he was unaware of the move to repeal the law.

“We should make the environment as favorable as possible for local workers,” he said, adding that when he introduced the law in the early 1990s, “foreign workers were prohibited from working on bases in the U.S. except in Guam,” where thousands of nonresidents had been hired during a construction boom.

“There were a lot of issues,” Underwood said, including people lacking necessary skills, being moved to other jobs without going through the required certification or displacing local workers by accepting lower wages.

But with a new construction boom ahead, Maria Connelly, Guam Department director, called the move to repeal the law “wonderful news.”

Her department oversees the Alien Labor Certification Program. The program’s advantage, she said, is that it’s temporary.

“Once the work is done, they’ll be sent home,” she said. “We won’t have to deal with a lot of displaced workers.”

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