When an individual is detained by ICE, it can be a lengthy and intimidating experience that could ultimately jeopardize their ability to adjust their legal status. During this time, it is not uncommon for an individual to sign a "voluntary departures" without realizing the legal ramifications of doing so.
What is Voluntary Departure?
Voluntary departure allows non-citizens to avoid an order of removal (also known as a deportation) by leaving the United States at his or her own expense, within a set period of time.
Voluntary Departure vs. Deportation
If a person is deported from the United States, they are essentially escorted out of the country. The U.S. government covers the cost of detaining and transporting individuals who are set to be deported.
However, voluntary departure is different. Under a voluntary departure, immigration officials will not be waiting for you to show, nor monitoring your departure. The person who signed the deportation order has essentially promised the government they will be leaving the country on their own terms by the set date.
It's important to note that, although a voluntary departure can be beneficial in certain cases, not everyone is eligible for a voluntary departure.
What happens if I signed a voluntary departure and stayed in the US?
Unfortunately, in some instances, applicants have seen this as a free pass to stay in the country, without realizing there are severe consequences for failing to leave the United States under a voluntary departure.
1. Civil Penalty for Failing to Depart
A non-citizen who fails to leave the U.S. within the time period specified in the voluntary departure order becomes subject to civil penalties. You may have to pay a penalty of anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000.
2. 10 Year Bar for Immigration Relief
Another major consequence of failing to depart the U.S. on time has to do with the person's ability of adjusting their future legal status in the country.
Individuals who fail to leave the country under a voluntary departure will face an automatic ten-year bar from being granted cancellation of removal, adjustment of status, change of status, registry, and further voluntary departure.
3. Voluntary Departure Order Automatically Becomes Removal Order
If an individuals does not leave the country before the specified date, the voluntary departure order automatically becomes an order of removal and the individual is set for deportation.
This process is automatic in that it happens without the immigration judge needing to issue a new order and without the individual appearing in court. Once this has happened, the individual is subject to deportation without first seeing a judge.
What Happens If I Signed A Voluntary Departure And Left After The Specified Date?
If an individual leaves the country after overstaying the voluntary departure, the departure is considered a self-removal. This means that the non-citizen will be considered to have gone through the deportation process.
Under these circumstances, the individuals would still be subject to the adverse consequences of a formal deportation, even though they left on their own.
Do Not Request Voluntary Departure Unless You Plan To Depart By The Specified Date
Although some individuals are wrongly tricked into signing voluntary departures and consequently overstay, in some situations, it is in the best interest of an individual to request a voluntary departure instead of being deported.
If you or someone you know is considering requesting voluntary departure, please understand it is not a way to delay departing the United States or to cancel a deportation order. And, unless you depart on time, you will not gain any of the advantages of avoiding an order of deportation on your record.
In fact, overstaying a voluntary departure could only worsen your immigration status by not only converting into a removal order, but possibly leaving you with monetary and other penalties, including an automatic ten-year bar to several types of immigration relief.You will need to depart by the required date, post a voluntary departure bond (if required to do so), and comply with any other applicable conditions.