From proposals to slash the H-1B cap to overhauling the EB-5 investor program, 2016 is already proving to be an interesting year for business immigration. In a series of posts, the Mintz Levin team will provide an overview of the cases, legislation, and regulations to look out for in the new year. In our first post we will discuss the H-1B visa and proposed reforms. 

A new wave of bills on Capitol Hill may lead to greater scrutiny of the H-1B program for high-skilled temporary workers in 2016. Since November, senators on both sides of the aisle have introduced legislation related to the visa category. One comes from Republican presidential candidate and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who hopes to reform the program by creating a “layoff cool-off period” under which employers could not hire any H-1B workers within two years of layoffs, furloughs, or employee strikes. The “American Jobs First Act of 2015” would also end the Optional Practical Training program, which allows certain foreign students or graduates to temporarily work in the United States. Bill co-sponsor Senator Jeff Sessions, (R-AL), said the H-1B program has become a “backdoor method for replacing American workers.”

Senator Sessions, known as an immigration hardliner, also co-sponsored the “Protecting American Jobs Act” with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) to reduce the annual cap on H-1B visas from 65,000 to 50,000. If more than 50,000 petitions are filed within a fiscal year, the bill would require DHS to prioritize workers with the highest wages. “This bill directly targets outsourcing companies that rely on lower-wage foreign workers to replace equally qualified U.S. workers,” stated Senator Nelson. His legislation directly opposes fellow Florida Senator and Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio’s earlier 2015 bill that would triple the H-1B cap to between 115,000 and 195,000 visas.

Another bipartisan effort comes from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), who recently introduced legislation that would greatly reform and increase enforcement of the H-1B program. Their bill would prohibit companies from hiring H-1B workers if they have more than 50 employees and over half are H-1B and L-1 visa holders.

Whether any of these bills will actually pass remains the biggest question for H-1Bs in 2016, particularly as certain bills—and legislators—oppose one another, both in the Senate and in presidential campaigns.

Parnia Zahedi assisted with this post.