WASHINGTON, Jan 29 (Reuters) - U.S. senators introduced a new proposal on Tuesday to make life easier for highly skilled immigrants and their employers to nourish America's high-technology industries as Congress begins the long process of tackling immigration reform.
A bipartisan bill, focused largely on highly educated foreign workers, was introduced in Congress a day after another group of senators unveiled a comprehensive plan for simplifying the U.S. immigration system and giving illegal immigrants a chance to become citizens.
Unlike Monday's plans, Tuesday's bill does not delve into the question of illegal immigration, but offers measures that would ease the legal process for U.S.-educated and other highly skilled foreigners, particularly in fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
The skilled-worker measures are widely supported by the U.S. technology sector, which has long argued that foreign-born talent is crucial to meeting its job demands and to spur innovation and competitiveness.
But the bill will be just one part of what is poised to be a long, uphill battle for immigration reform that President Barack Obama and members of Congress said they will make one of their top priorities in part because of the notable role played by Hispanics in re-electing Obama in the Nov. 6 election.
Many lawmakers from both parties would prefer to pass a law that would tackle both the high-skilled worker concerns and the much-thornier issue of what to do with America's 11 million illegal immigrants.
The new legislation, known as the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 or "I-Squared," proposes to nearly double the number of H-1B work visas allowed per year, make the cap flexible depending on employer demand and lift it entirely for foreigners with advanced degrees earned in the United States.
"We must be a country that makes stuff again, that invents things, that exports to the world. And to do that, we need the world's talent. That is what this bill is about," said Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat.