"I LIVED in the U.S. for six years, and went home to Ireland at the end of 2005. I was actually married to an American citizen and had a green card for a while, but I let it go. I miss my life over there dearly and would love to return, but I don't know where to turn. My husband and I never divorced and are still in contact, but there's no chance of a reconciliation. How could I get back to the U.S., this time for keeps? I haven't asked my estranged husband for help, but I bet that he would do what he could."

IT'S quite likely that the green card you once had was issued on a conditional basis for two years, if the marriage to your citizen husband was less than two years old at the time of issuance. So that green card and the legal status that it conferred is definitely null and void at this stage.

You say that your estranged husband would do what he could for you, even though you don't intend to resume the marriage. Based on that there isn't a whole lot of assistance he can provide. If you reconciled you could restart the process of becoming legal from scratch as the spouse of a U.S. citizen, providing the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service with a highly unusual case.

What can you do otherwise? The annual green card lottery is ongoing and you can certainly apply - visit dvlottery.state.gov for directions - but success is a big long shot.

We'll assume you don't have any immediate U.S. citizen relatives who could provide help. Really, the only such relative would be a spouse, as the other available categories, for siblings of citizens and adult children of citizens, take several years for processing.

There are employment categories that may offer relief. The higher the level of skill and education the better the chance of success, but for the most part visas in these categories require sponsorship from a U.S. employer.

The question of how to come to the U.S. legally is one that that this column receives quite frequently, but there are no easy answers. For those wishing to immigrate permanently it is, for the most part, a long, long process with few easy options, unless there's an immediate family connection or high level of employment skill involved.

There are a number of temporary non-immigrant work and exchange visa categories available that you may want to look at, but you say you want to reside here for good so they will likely be of no use.

As always, the message for those with green cards remains the same - make sure and do everything needed to safeguard permanent resident status, because it can be so difficult to obtain. Perhaps this week's questioner had the opportunity to make her conditional green card permanent at one point. If she had followed through on that process, and subsequent regulations on maintaining status, she wouldn't be in the predicament she now finds herself in.

Visit www.travel.state.gov for more on visa issuance.

Are You Registered?

ONE of the great privileges of being a U.S. citizen is the right to vote. And, obviously, we've got a big election on the horizon next month.

The deadline for registration for the November 4 election comes this Friday, October 10. Registration is simple.

Forms can be obtained at local libraries and post offices. For further instructions, visit your state's Board of Elections website; in New York it's www.elections.state.ny.us. A simple Google search will lead to boards in other locations.

Simply put, there are no excuses - NONE - for an eligible American citizen to shun such an important duty as taking part in a national election. And this contest, needless to say, is incredibly important, so make sure your opinion counts.