MicSem Publications

A Second Look at FSM Migration to Guam

by Francis X. Hezel, SJ

1995 Migration

The Government of Guam maintains that there are now 8000 people from the Freely Associated States (FAS) on Guam. I estimate that there are 7000 from FSM and a hundred or two from Marshalls. When Palauans are added in, the GovGuam figures seem reasonable.

Reaction against FSM migrants on Guam is running very high at present. Although there are nationalist issues (as stated by David Sablan of the Chamoru Nacion and some other would-be Guam leaders), the main issue is one of money. Guam is not doing well fiscally these days; the government has a debt of over $800 million and cannot afford the high welfare costs it has paid in the past. GovGuam figures show the cost of health, housing and welfare benefits paid to Micronesians as increasing from $265,000 in 1990 to over $5 million in 1994. In an economy measure, the government notified all welfare recipients that benefits would be reduced by 88% next year. Expenses in education and other services have increased proportionately. Many on Guam feel that the FAS are sending to Guam the people they cannot provide for, so that they may participate in the benefits of the welfare state. Guam finds it increasingly difficult to fund these benefits; the critical ones are those mandated by federal law but not funded by the feds. An example is the tax rebate of $1000 a year granted to anyone whose income does not reach the minimum level. The medically indigent program is another example. But Guam legislators maintain that even those programs funded by the US often have cost overruns that Guam must pay out of pocket.

GovGuam is claiming that the US government owes it $79 million for out-of-pocket expenses migrants from Micronesia since the implementation of the Compact. The US has paid Guam only $3 million of that amount. GovGuam met with the heads of the FAS nations in June 1992 to work out an accord on migration, among other issues. By the terms of that accord FSM was to support Guam in its plea to receive the money that it claims from the US. FSM has apparently done nothing about this in the two years since and seems all too glad to have the migrants off its hands. The needs of FSM migrants on Guam is low on the FSM priority list, and the concerns of GovGuam are even lower. To make matters even worse, FSM refuses to allow the tuna fishing ships it licenses to tranship on Guam. As Guam feels the economic pinch more tightly and it despairs (perhaps with good reason) of getting reimbursement from the US, as it watches the rise in the numbers of migrants and the expanding cost of the welfare package that it is obliged to offer under US law, the target of its frustration will increasingly be the Micronesians who have settled on the island.

Mark Forbes, a Guam legislator, has proposed a bill drastically cutting the welfare benefits offered to "non-citizens and non-alien residents" of Guam. The bill would deny this category of residents (in effect, citizens of the FAS) all welfare benefits funded by GovGuam. He and three or four other new congressmen, all of them young and outspoken nationalists (eg, Hope Cristobal, Angel Santos, Carlotta Leon-Guerrero), are on the attack. The reaction of FSMers seems to have alternated between strong outbursts and apathy. Positions are becoming polarized, and we will soon reach the point where people will cease talking and begin voicelessly shouting. It is urgent that liaisons be established between different parties to discuss the facts not myths, and the real issues, in all their developmental aspects, that are posed by the migration to Guam.


Micronesians, especially Chuukese, continue to come to Guam for the work and other benefits it offers. Chuukese have been coming to Guam since the Compact at the rate of 600 a year. The rates of migration from the other states is much harder to gauge for it is not linear and has evidently tapered off since the first years after the Compact. Extrapolations based on census survey figures indicate that by 1994 the number of FSM citizens residing on Guam, including children, was about 6,300. The Marshallese population is estimated at perhaps 200, and the number of Palauan migrants is unknown but thought to be between 1,000 and 2,000.

FSM citizens are currently eligible for a wide variety of welfare benefits on Guam. This and the prospect of finding employment draws them to Guam in great numbers, particularly since the economies of FSM and the other FAS have been stagnant.

In 1994 there were 2,400 persons from the FAS employed on Guam. They were making low salaries, usually close to the minimum, doing work that others on Guam would scorn. (The average salary of FSM citizens on Guam was $6.15 an hour.) Without this chief source of labor, Guam would have had problems finding help during the boom years of the late 1980s.

At the same time, FSM households on Guam contain more elderly, non-English-speaking and unemployed persons than they did just a few years ago. The percentage of FSM adults working fulltime dropped from 62% in 1990 to 56% in 1992. FSM citizens on Guam are bringing in children and older people in larger numbers, thus putting much more burden on the Guam school system, hospital and other services. FSM citizens are by this time much more "street wise" in their knowledge of the types of programs and benefits that they can draw upon. The addition of children and older people stabilizes the family unit and probably injects an element of necessary control on the young men who pioneered on Guam. However, it also jacks up the costs to Guam by way of welfare benefits.

Added to the number of FSMers who are resident are those who come to Guam for a short time for childbirth. There were over 660 births of FAS children on Guam in 1994. The attraction is not only superior medical care over what people would receive back home but the eligibility of their child for US citizenship since it was born on American soil.

Guam itself, it should be remembered, has benefited from the largesse of the US government as a territory. By special provision with the US government, all federal income taxes remain in the territory to be appropriated by GovGuam. Guamanians, as US citizens, are entitled to all the benefits of the US when they move to the mainland. There are now more native Guamanians living in the mainland than on Guam. Provisions such as these, as well as the tourist and business boom, have made it possible for the average real income (corrected for inflation) of the Guamanian to increase tenfold over the last thirty years.


In the early post-Compact days it could be argued that Guam was a legitimate destination for FSMers seeking work that Guam could supply with benefits to both parties since labor was in short supply on the island. Is this an accurate perception of those early days? Has the situation changed radically since then? Is Guam now becoming a dumping ground for surplus FSM citizens? Is Guam the haven of all, young and old, who have given up on any meaningful development in their own place?

Has the FSM government, on national and state levels, ignored if not encouraged increased emigration in order to take the pressure off its own development timetable? The governments are clearly struggling with the need to produce an income to replace the subsidy that will be lost at the end of the Compact. Have the governments used the outflow to alleviate some of their own internal problems in FSM? Would continuation of the outflow simply encourage FSM to turn away from the situation in Guam. Should FSM assume a responsibility for the emigration, as Guam insists?

Will continuation of the relatively high migration rates to Guam be good for the people who go there? The Church has always opposed dependence (economic as well as political) on the grounds that it does not provide a good climate for individual and collective maturation and growth. Should we encourage people to leave for Guam simply to draw the welfare payments and the tax rebate and other help they are eligible for? Is this helping the migrants or the countries they leave?

Is Guam, even if it has legitimate complaints, being too narrow-minded and provincial about the matter? Are its people forgetting their own humble economic origins, the assistance they have received from the US for many years, and the welcome they receive and the entitlement they take for granted when they leave Guam for mainland US? Are they trying to deny FSM citizens the very advantages they have had? Are they becoming forgetful of those poorer than they?

Whether and how to limit growing migration is an issue that the mainland US faces in this day of large refugee movements into America for economic and political reasons. What can we learn from stands that the church in America has taken on this issue?
How can we disentangle legitimate financial concerns that Guam and its people may have from the emotional "ultranationalism" that seems to be so often tied in with it? What can the church contribute to a clarification of the issues for the enlightenment of both Guam and FSM? How might we do this?

Should we (Micronesian Ministry, MicSem) advocate support for the Forbes Bill in some form or other, while urging Guam to remain open to the employment needs of its neighbors?

Possible Strategies

1] Use Micronesian Ministry and Compact Impact as a vehicle for trying to negotiate a settlement for the present problems.

2] Use whatever weight we might have to urge a government-to-government conference to work out these issues.

3] Have MicSem make a TV program on the issue that could be telecast in the different parts of Micronesia and on Guam.

4] Letters to the editor in PDN and Op-Ed pieces presenting a more reasonable and balanced approach to the problem.

5] Try a public education campaign in FSM on the issues through articles, discussions, talks with government officials, etc.