“I have what might seem like a bizarre question. I have a son in America who just received a green card; he married an American citizen, and is very happy. My daughter here in Ireland is almost 16 years old and wants very much to live in the U.S. when she completes her studies. We have done lots of research on how to get her a visa, and it seems as if my son, when he eventually becomes a U.S. citizen, will be able to sponsor her for a green card. But on the downside, it will take many years to process. I had a thought – can he submit the paperwork for his sister right now, even though he still is not a citizen? My reasoning is that by the time she would be called for a green card, he would have earned his U.S. citizenship. Starting the paperwork now would eliminate a good portion of the waiting time in the future, it seems to me. Can this be done?”

Definitely not. Your son will have to wait until he actually becomes a U.S. citizen – once he’s married for three years to his wife he can apply, and it shouldn’t take more than a few months to process, provided he meets all requirements – in order to initiate the sponsorship process for his sister.

The green card category you are referring to is the family-based fourth preference, which allocates 65,000 green cards per year to siblings of U.S. citizens. It’s a category that’s heavily oversubscribed, but the processing times are better than they used to be a few years ago.

For the month of October 2010, those who had fourth preference petitions filed on their behalf on or before December 1, 2001 are eligible to complete final processing. But doesn’t mean applicants who file now can expect to wait nine years until a green card can be issued.

Looking at recent history, in January of this year the fourth preference processing date was October 1, 1999. Now in October it’s moved all the way to December of 2001, a more than two year advancement in only 10 months.

This is a significant improvement to how the category used to move a decade ago, when the processing date would only inch up by a week or two each month, or sometimes not at all. It wasn’t at all uncommon for fourth preference applicants to wait at least 10 years until being called for a final interview, which is obviously a long, long time.

If the current trend continues and perhaps improves, your daughter would have to wait nearly that long. But that is impossible to predict.

When she’s done with school she should also apply for the annual DV-1 diversity visa lottery, which allocates 50,000 green cards each year, but attracts millions of entries from around the world. (Irish applicants typically only get in the region of 100 or so each year).

Still, it’s worth a shot. The lottery is held each fall; information is available at www.travel.state.gov.

The application date for the 2012 DV-1 lottery is fast approaching. It starts on Tuesday, October 5 and concludes on Wednesday, November 3. All entries must be submitted electronically at www.dvlottery.state.gov.

Those who have been here undocumented should not take part. We’ll look at the lottery more closely in next week’s column.