Voluntary departure is a form of immigration relief. Its meaning is exactly how its read – a person voluntarily agrees to depart the United States. It is usually the best option for people who truly have no other form of relief, and wish to one day return to the United States to live, work, study or tour.

If granted, a noncitizen can leave the United States on his or her own terms (up to a period of 120 days) and more importantly, leave without the stigma of an Order of Removal imposed against him or her. With an Order of Removal, a person would be barred from entering the United States or obtaining an immigration benefit for a certain number of years.

However, it is only available to certain applicants who meet a certain set of criteria. Characteristics that make a person ineligible for voluntary departure no matter when it is requested, including persons who were previously granted voluntary departure, arriving aliens, aggravate felons and terrorists. In addition, a very important factor for voluntary departure is when it is requested – before, during or after removal (deportation) proceedings.

Requesting Before Commencement of Removal Proceedings

Requesting voluntary departure before any immigration hearing is scheduled is the most flexible option. The noncitizen would work out an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and without a judge’s inquiry into any negative characteristics, such as police contact.

If granted, DHS may give a person up to 6 months (120) days to leave. This allows the most amount of time to have arrangements made for housing leases, moving expenses, bank accounts, employment terminations and family arrangements.

Requesting During (at the Beginning) of Immigration Proceedings

The first hearing in removal proceedings is the Master Hearing. In order to be granted the same departure benefits as Section A (above), the noncitizen must request voluntary departure at the Master Hearing. When a noncitizen requests voluntary departure from an immigration judge, he or she must admit certain facts and give up certain rights.

The noncitizen must admit he or she is removable, must give up the right to appeal and must give up the right to apply for any other type of immigration benefit. For example, an applicant cannot request voluntary departure and cancellation of removal, asylum, TPS or other humanitarian protections at the same time. An immigration judge has wide discretion in granting or denying voluntary departure.

Requesting At the Conclusion of Removal Proceedings

Even if a noncitizen fights removal, there is still a chance to request voluntary departure. However, the law is much stricter at this point. If granted, the noncitizen will only have 60 days to leave the United States.

In order to be eligible for voluntary departure at the end of removal proceedings, a noncitizen must prove he or she:

  • Has been physically present in the United States for at least one year;
  • Has been a person of “good moral character” for the past 5 years;
  • Does not have a conviction for an aggravated felony;
  • Has the means (financial and travel ability) to leave the United States;
  • Will post a bond (at least $500) ordered by the immigration judge;
  • Can show valid travel documentation, including a valid passport.

The consequences of a denial of voluntary departure are severe: the noncitizen not only must leave the United States, but he or she will be subject to a Removal Order. A Removal Order prevents a person from entering the United States for a period of not less than 5 years. There may also be time bars based on accrual of any unlawful status. A denial of voluntary departure cannot be appealed.

Voluntary departure may be the best option, especially since it allows a person to one day become eligible for an immigration benefit. This is incredibly important for families, students and people who have built their careers within the United States.

If you are interested in seeking voluntary departure, then contact an experienced immigration attorney in Pennsylvania at Skinner Law Firm today. Our offices are located in Media in Delaware County and West Chester in Chester County, PA. Call (267) 388-3476 today.

Article Author

Michael J. Skinner, the founder of Skinner Law Firm LLC, is a former prosecutor with the Chester County District Attorney’s Office.

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