Voluntary departure is a legal term used to describe a particular set of circumstances where a non-citizen leaves a country. The term usually applies to persons subject to deportation. It is the most common form of relief available to aliens in this situation.
An individual who opts for voluntary departure generally avoids the negative consequences of deportation. Such an individual typically must leave within a designated amount of time at his or her own expense. Voluntary departure typically may be granted by immigration judges and in some countries by officials of a security agency, such as the United States (US) Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
There can be serious consequences to failing to leave the country after being granted a voluntary departure. Those who do not leave within the designated time frame may be subject to fines and civil penalties. They may be barred from re-entering the country. If the alien departs within the designated amount of time, however, he or she usually is not barred from re-entering the country in a legal fashion in the future.
Generally, there are two times when an alien can request voluntary departure: prior to the conclusion of removal proceedings and at the conclusion of removal proceedings. Before a request can be made, however, the alien in question must fit within a country's guidelines. Most significantly, the alien may not be eligible if he or she has been convicted of an aggravated felony or has been involved in terrorist activities.
A voluntary departure may be granted if it is requested prior to the conclusion of removal proceedings. This usually is the case only if the applicant first withdraws all other requests for relief, and demonstrates that he or she has the financial means to depart and is not a security risk. Additionally, the individual may be required to post a bond that will only be returned after he or she has left the country within the indicated time frame. Typically, this time limit is no longer than 120 days.
If applied after the conclusion of removal proceedings, a voluntary departure is often more difficult to achieve as there may be additional requirements. The alien may be required to prove that he or she has been a person of good moral character for up to five years preceding the application; that he or she has resided in one place for one year preceding the application; and that he or she has not previously been permitted to leave under a similar agreement. An alien is also typically granted up to 60 days to fulfill the agreement.