Bay Area business leaders and immigrant advocates Monday applauded a bipartisan immigration breakthrough in the U.S. Senate, even as they waited for more details.

The immigration overhaul being negotiated in Congress could shape the future of Bay Area society and business by granting green cards to foreign students who dream of working in Silicon Valley after graduating from American schools; tighten the requirements for employers to prove their need to import immigrant workers; and offer what senators called an "arduous but fair" citizenship path to 11 million illegal immigrants.

"In the Bay Area, the biggest impact for us from that reform would be on that higher-end group," the scientists and engineers coveted by high-tech businesses, said Sean Randolph, president of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, a business advocate.

At the same time, he said, "you look around and realize there are very large numbers of people in our community who are working and contributing in other ways. We do need to find a way to address" all those living in the shadows.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., stood with Republican and Democratic colleagues in unveiling the newly bipartisan blueprint Monday in Washington, D.C., where much of the focus was on the proposal to grant an earned path to legal residency and eventual citizenship.

"We have been too content for too long to allow individuals to mow our lawns, serve our food, clean our homes and even watch our children, while not affording them any of the benefits that make our country so great," McCain said.


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Just as controversial for some in the Bay Area is how the new plan will address work-based legal immigration.

The blueprint endorses a proposal long favored by both parties to grant green cards for permanent residency to anyone who graduates with a U.S. master's degree or doctorate in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

What remains less clear is what it would do about H-1B temporary work visas used by big and small Bay Area tech businesses to hire workers from abroad.

The blueprint makes no mention of high-skilled guest workers, but a separate bill being introduced this week by U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., would dramatically expand the number of H-1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000 annually.

"The Hatch bill is the best bill the industry could buy," said Norm Matloff, a Walnut Creek resident and UC Davis computer science professor.

Matloff opposes H-1Bs because, he said, they cause an "internal brain drain of our own best and brightest."

He also panned the bipartisan plan by McCain and seven other senators, though found some promise in a sentence that said employers will only be able to "hire immigrants if it can be demonstrated that they were unsuccessful in recruiting an American to fill an open position and the hiring of an immigrant will not displace American workers."

Bay Area immigrant advocates said they welcomed the new bipartisanship but are hoping for a more far-reaching and less enforcement-heavy vision from President Barack Obama.

San Jose health worker Jesse Castañeda is among a group of Bay Area Latino activists and religious leaders who are joining the president Tuesday when he lays out his own immigration reform blueprint at a speech in Las Vegas.

"It's going to be a long, drawn-out battle," said Castañeda, chairman of Silicon Valley Alliance for Immigration Reform. "We're probably not going to get everything we want."