The 4-Not-1 Rule: The Key To Better Prepared Green Card Cases
What is the 4-Not-1 rule and how can it help you be better prepared to get your work visa, your green card, or your citizenship?
I am Josh Goldstein. an immigration lawyer, and I help people and families across the country and around the world with their immigration cases. Today, I’m going to explain to you a very important topic, something that’s very dear to me. It’s called the 4-Not-1 rule. I have invented the 4-Not-1 rule, and I’m going to explain what it is and how it’s going to help you out.
How I discovered the 4-not-1 rule
I was representing a woman who was in deportation proceedings because she had illegally voted. She got her green card and she applied for citizenship. There’s a question on the form, “Have you ever voted?” She said, “Yes, of course I voted. I voted in several elections.” They denied her application and put her in deportation proceedings.
So she was in immigration court in deportation proceedings in order to be deported. The government was trying to deport her because she had illegally voted. I defended her through a form of relief called cancellation of removal.
Here’s one important piece of background information about the case: She had a criminal conviction. It was an old case, something very minor, and it happened many, many years ago in her home country of Belize.
A court-certified copy of the final disposition of the case
I told her that we had to disclose the criminal case, and we also had to provide the court with a court certified copy of the final disposition of the case. In other words, the judge wanted to see paperwork from the case to show what had happened, and that paperwork had to be certified as authentic by the court that issued it. A photocopy of the paperwork was not sufficient for this.
She moved heaven and earth to get a copy of this paperwork from her home country of Belize, from way back for this very minor infraction. She got it and she went to the interview. We won the case.
A second copy was needed
After that, she said, “Well, I want you to help me become a citizen. I want to go back and apply for naturalization again so I can become a citizen.” I said, “Great, Well, we’re going to need to get a court certified copy of that disposition again.”
She said, “Well, we gave it to the court. Can’t we just use the one that the court had?” I said, “Well, I think there’s a mechanism by which we can try and get the paperwork back from the court. Let me see what I can do.”
After I did that, I found out that the immigration court had lost the paperwork. They did not have a copy of that disposition that she spent so much time and energy tracking down. She didn’t have it anymore.
I said, “Listen, we can help you, but when it gets to the question about your old criminal case, you got to say yes to that question and you’re going to need to provide the USCIS adjudicator with a copy of the old case. This is not going to impact your eligibility for approval, it’s just a matter of paperwork.”
Well, she was so frustrated that she never went forward and never did it. She didn’t have that paperwork. At that precise moment, that’s when I realized and discovered the 4-Not-1 rule.
The 4-Not-1 rule
The 4-Not-1 rule goes something like this: Always get four copies, never just one. If you’re tracking down a birth certificate, for example, you could get one original or court certified birth certificate. But one is not enough, you need four.
You could get one copy of an old criminal case from a court, or one disposition. But one is not enough. You need four. If she had gotten four court certified copies of that disposition, she would have had extra ones lying around, ready and available in case she needed them for any other purpose.
My advice to you is to follow the 4-Not-1 rule. Always get four certified copies. Never get just one. I tell that to every paralegal, every client I have, I shout it from the rooftops: four, not one. The main reason to do it is that it’s just as easy to get four certified copies as it is to get one.
Of course, each court and each agency charges a fee to issue a court certified document. Usually this is a minor fee. It may be $10, or it might be $20. The point is, regardless of the cost, you never want to spend the time and energy to track down these documents again. That’s why you should always get four certified copies and not just one.
What documents does this apply to?
People ask me, “Well, what documents does this apply to? What documents should I get four copies of instead of just one?” I’m talking about things like birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce certificates, death certificates, and of course, criminal dockets, dispositions, paperwork from the court that shows what happened. You need a certified copy from each one. It has to be certified by the court or the governmental agency that issued it. Always get four and not one.
Another question I get about this is why should I get four copies? Why not five copies or two? We know that one isn’t enough, but why is four enough? It’s sort of like the objection to the six-minute ab workout. Why not five minutes? Wouldn’t that be better?
Enough copies to get through the immigration system
I have discovered that four is the right number of court certified documents to get. If you get four, you’re probably going to have enough to get you through the immigration system.
Let’s say you’re going to an asylum interview. In an asylum case, USCIS will usually ask for two court certified copies of a document.. If you get four, you can use two for the asylum interview and you get approved.
Then you go for your green card, using copy three. And for the citizenship application you use copy four. If you have four, you’re probably set. Perhaps three might be sufficient, but it’s up to you.
What you should do
The point is that if you’re going to spend the time and energy to track down one of those precious documents, don’t get just one original document, get multiple documents. I recommend four, not one. If you follow my advice, I think you’ll be in a good spot.
If you have questions about this, please put them in the comments below or reach out to me and let me know.