"I AM from Ireland. I have lived in the U.S. for 22 years, and I'm ready for a change, so I'm planning on returning home. I am a naturalized U.S. citizen. My sister is 31, and has lived in Ireland all her life. As I'm leaving, she wants to come to the U.S. We are both single. I have no desire to stay on, but I would like to help her get settled here, and of course to be legal. I am aware how long it takes for U.S. siblings to act as a sponsor. Is there anything else I can do?"

AT the present time, not really. You've likely been following the immigration debate that's presently going on in the Senate, and one of the proposals seeks to eliminate the family preference categories that U.S. citizens and permanent residents use to sponsor family members. One of those preferences, the family fourth, sets aside 65,000 green cards annually for siblings of U.S. citizens.

The category, however, is heavily oversubscribed, and the processing time takes in the region of 12-15 years. Therefore, even if it remains unaltered by the negotiations currently going on, the fourth preference is essentially useless with regards to planning a future in the U.S. Who wants to wait more than a dozen years to get here?

What does your sister do for a living? Does she have a university degree, or is she highly skilled? Perhaps she would be able to secure employment sponsorship. She should take a trip to the U.S. to further investigate that possibility, and also speak with a qualified immigration professional about her background.

The annual diversity visa lottery is also an option, but again, like the fourth preference, not one to pin hopes on. The lottery, which allocates 55,000 green cards, attracts millions of entries from eligible countries around the world. The application period takes place in October.

Changing Status

"I VISITED the U.S. last Christmas, and I was offered a job in the restaurant industry in New York, which I am going to soon take. I used the visa waiver program for my last trip and it worked great, and I'm planning on doing the same this time around because the job starts soon and I need to be there. How will this work if my employer wants to sponsor me for a visa, which he has said he will do?"

THOSE who enter the U.S. using the visa waiver program have no options as regards to changing their status while remaining in the country. In other words, if the opportunity of a visa arose for you, processing would have to take place in the country where you normally reside.

If you overstay the visa waiver and eventually return home if a future visa becomes available, you run the serious risk of being barred from the U.S. upon return - a three year bar would kick in for overstays of six months to a year; this jumps to a 10 year ban for those remaining here for more than a year.

Therefore, you'll have to decide how you want to live your life here. If you remain past the 90-day authorized stay and become undocumented, the immigration legislation now under debate would not offer you any relief, at least not in its present form.