No one wants to be deported from the U.S., but sometimes life circumstances cause us to face the very real possibility that we might be removed from the country. If this is the case, can we choose to leave the U.S. voluntarily before being formally deported, and is there an advantage to doing so?
If you are facing deportation and choose to leave the U.S. on your own before being forced to leave, this is called “Voluntary Departure.” You must request this form of relief either prior to or at the beginning of your immigration court appearance (pre-conclusion Voluntary Departure), or at the end of your immigration court proceedings (post-conclusion Voluntary Departure).
To qualify for pre-conclusion Voluntary Departure, you cannot have committed an aggravated felony or terroristic act. You must also show you truly intend to leave the U.S. and that you have the money and travel documents to do so. You cannot pursue any other avenues for staying in the U.S. if you choose Voluntary Departure.
You must agree that you are currently in the U.S. illegally. Also, you must waive any right to appeal. You must also be of good moral character. There are additional requirements if you are seeking post-conclusion Voluntary Departure.
Why choose voluntary departure?
Voluntary departure has some benefits. First, it gives you time to tie up loose ends in the U.S. and plan for your new home outside of the U.S., although you still have a deadline by which you must leave.
Second, if you are deported you are banned from reentering the U.S. for five to ten years depending on the circumstances, although certain offenses carry a lifetime ban from reentry. If you try to enter the U.S. before the ban expires, this can be considered a crime. You could be fined, put in prison or both.
But if you depart voluntarily, you are not banned from reentering the U.S. The exception is if you did not depart voluntarily by the requisite deadline. In this situation, you now have an “unlawful presence” in the U.S. and might be subject to a ban from reentry. The length of this ban depends on how long you have been unlawfully present in the U.S.
While Voluntary Departure might seem like the best option on its face, you will want to consider whether there are other ways you might stay in the U.S. before pursuing it. While Voluntary Departure is generally better than deportation, it might not be your only choice.