"My parents lived illegally in America for roughly two years in the late 1980s before returning to Ireland. I was born in Boston in 1989, and I have an American passport which I am extremely grateful for.  I also have a younger sibling born in Ireland, so basically I am the only one of my family who would be considered as legal over there.  My parents would both like to return to the U.S. – they are 49 years old – and so would my sibling.  I’m pretty sure that my American citizenship would be of use to them as far as legalization, but we’re not sure how to proceed. What do you think we should do?”

You are indeed fortunate to have been born here, and yes, your citizenship will be of benefit to your family, but it will take some time and effort to secure legalization, especially in the case of your sibling.

Because you are a U.S. citizen over 21 years old you will be able to sponsor your parents for a green card as an immediate relative, which means that the processing time will be significantly shorter, a matter of months as opposed to years provided that all requirements are met.

Legalizing your sibling, though, will take significantly longer.  You’ll be able to sponsor your sibling under the family fourth preference immigration category, which sets aside 65,000 green cards per year for siblings of U.S. citizens; the citizen must be at least 21 years old to sponsor.

The bad news? The wait time for fourth preference visas is years long, at least 12 to 14, so it’s not a very practical option.

However, there will be other options at your disposal once your parents secure their legal status which we’ll get into towards the end of this piece, but there’s another important piece of the puzzle that you’ll need to consider when legalizing your family.

Virtually all green card applications require the sponsor to supply an affidavit of support, which is a guarantee that if the immigrant runs into hardship that requires government assistance, the sponsor will assume the financial responsibility.  The affidavit is legally enforceable, and remains in effect until the immigrant becomes an American citizen, or accumulates 40 quarters (10 years) of work in the U.S.

The affidavit sponsor must maintain a principle domicile, or residence, in the U.S.; there are very few exceptions to this requirement. “If you live abroad, you may still be eligible to be a sponsor if you can show that your residence abroad is temporary, and that you still have your domicile in the United States,” says the USCIS.

As you live in Ireland now, you would have to establish a primary residence in the U.S. to be an affidavit sponsor, so this is something you’ll obviously need to consider.  The affidavit is also fairly involved, and given your age and possible lack of resources to meet its financial stipulations, you may need a joint sponsor.  (There is plenty of information on affidavit requirements on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service website, www.uscis.gov.)

Getting back to your sibling, he/she will have a somewhat faster route to legalization once your parents obtain green cards through you. 

When this happens they will be able to sponsor your sibling under the family second preference category which allocates 114,200 green cards per year for spouses and children of permanent residents. Again, depending on your sibling’s age, it could take anywhere between three and nine years before a second preference visa became available.

It’s quite a lot to take in, and you’d be well advised to consult with an experienced U.S. immigration attorney before you proceed.   To reach out to an Irish immigration center in the U.S., visit the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers at www.ciic-usa.org.