Q: “I aman Irish citizen. I live in Ireland with my American boyfriend. He was born in Chicago, but raised in Ireland. We have been together for 10 years and have two children. We are thinking of moving to the U.S. at some point, but we are not married ‘by law,’ even though we consider ourselves to be wed. Will we be able to live legally in the U.S.? What would my status there be? And what about our children?”

A: We'll start with you as your situation is more complicated. As you are not married to your boyfriend you cannot claim legal status in the U.S. through him.

Common law relationships, no matter how long-term they may be, are not recognized by U.S. immigration law. Therefore, your boyfriend would not be able to sponsor you for permanent resident status, which means that – at least from the information you’ve provided – your options for becoming legal here would be quite limited.

If your plans to relocate here are firm, you may wish to consider marrying your boyfriend. If you did he would be able to sponsor you for a green card as an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen.

After the marriage the paperwork for your green card could be filed at the American Embassy in Dublin, but be aware that it would still take several months for your case to be processed. But at least you’d have legal status, which would allow you to start your life here without any impediments.

Your two children may already be U.S. citizens thanks to your boyfriend’s citizenship. In order for citizenship to be automatically transferred from a citizen parent to a child born abroad on or after November 14, 1986, the parent must have been physically present in the U.S. for five years, at least two years of which were after the parent reached the age of 14. This period of physical presence must have taken place prior to the birth of the child.

However, as the children were born out of wedlock, you and your boyfriend would also have to do the following before citizenship can be confirmed – you would have to complete an affidavit to establish paternity of your children before a consular officer at the embassy; your boyfriend would have to sign a sworn statement agreeing to provide financial support for the children until they turn 18; and your boyfriend would have to provide a written statement acknowledging paternity.

If the children do have a claim to automatic U.S. citizenship, you and your boyfriend can file a consular report of a birth abroad at the embassy, and also file for U.S. passports for the kids.

You say that your boyfriend was born in the U.S. but raised in Ireland, so it is possible that he may not have spent five years in the U.S. (This period of residency, incidentally, would have to be proved by your boyfriend through provision of items such as old passports, school transcripts or other documents that would place him in the U.S. for the required amount of time.)

If he can’t meet the five-year requirement, your boyfriend would still be able to sponsor your children for green cards as immediate relatives, which are classified as spouses of U.S. citizens, unmarried children 21 and younger of a U.S. citizen, or a parent of a citizen aged 21 or older.

For further information visit www.dublinembassy.gov.