“I have a few queries about relocating from Ireland to the U.S. My sister is a U.S. citizen. How long would it typically take for her to secure a green card for me? Can she also secure a green card for my husband? How long would that take? 

“While we would be waiting for our green cards could she secure for us both non-permanent work visas so that we could live and work in the U.S. in the meanwhile? If this is possible, how long do the non-permanent work visas allow you to stay in the U.S? Can they be renewed again and again until the green cards are secured? How long would it typically take for her to secure the non-permanent visas for us?”

This column is receiving plenty of emails from Ireland these days as the recession tightens its grip on the country. Many of the emails are looking for quick ways out of the country . . . but securing legal status in the U.S. is a painstaking process that takes lots of time.

Many people abroad have citizen siblings in the U.S. and assume that the connection will lead to automatic status here. Definitely not true.

With regards to this week’s questioner, yes, the U.S. sister would be able to secure permanent resident status for both the questioner and her husband under the family fourth preference category of immigration law, which sets aside 65,000 green cards annually for siblings of U.S. citizens and the sibling’s spouse and minor (under 21) children.

The processing time for this category, as we’ve mentioned many times in the past, is very lengthy. Currently, those who had petitions filed on their behalf on or before January 1, 2002 are being processed. (But take heart – natives of the Philippines waiting for a fourth preference visa are backlogged all the way to April 1, 1991.)

It’s hard to pinpoint how long a fourth preference visa would take the questioner and her husband to obtain because of the uneven nature of processing, but they should expect a wait of several years.

Also, the questioner asks about the possibility of temporary visas in the interim. This is not possible as such a visa class does not exist – unless they were able to secure job sponsorship from a U.S. employer that would be willing to act as a work visa sponsor.

Employment sponsorship is also an area that takes time and effort, between finding an employer, making sure the applicant’s qualifications gel with U.S. immigration requirements (for the most part, a university undergrad degree is required), filing the substantial amount of paperwork, etc.

Legally emigrating to the U.S. is no easy task, but it is doable if a proper plan, crafted with good legal advice, is put into motion. A trip to the U.S. for this week’s questioner and her husband would help them further investigate their possibilities for legal status.

The basic rule of thumb is this – green cards can be secured in one of three ways: through a close family connection (spouse, parent, child over 21 or sibling), employment sponsorship, or the annual diversity visa lottery. But each option comes with its own hurdles, and all of them take time.

For those abroad who wish to research U.S. visa possibilities, there is plenty of information on the U.S. Citizenship and Information Service website (www.uscis.gov), and also the State Department (www.travel.state.gov).