Blogs > Immigration Matters

Voluntary Departure vs. Deportation

In fiscal year 2015, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) removed 235,413 individuals from the country. Nearly 60 percent of these were convicted criminals. But these numbers don’t tell the whole story of the removal process. Being detained by ICE or picked up by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) does not automatically result in deportation. Many detainees are eventually released and remain in the country. But of those who do not, not all are deported—some are allowed to depart voluntarily.

The distinction between voluntary departure and deportation is crucial, and misunderstood by many individuals who have entered the United States illegally and found themselves in trouble as a result. Many do not even know they may have a choice. The key reason why choosing between voluntary departure and deportation is so important is that your choice can impact your ability to return to the United States in the future—even if you’re following the letter of the law while attempting to do so. Here’s a look at these two options.


Voluntary departure is not an automatic option granted to everyone faced with removal from the United States. For example, having committed certain crimes is an easy way to find oneself ineligible for voluntary departure. But for those who do have this option, it affords some notable benefits. Most prominently, for individuals who haven’t been in the United States for a year or more, it places no restrictions on their ability to apply to enter the country lawfully. (Unlawful presence of more than a year, however, results in a 10-year ban on re-entry.) Finally, it allows individuals to make their own departure arrangements, which can be a real privilege when you consider the alternative possibilities. Although this costs money, being entrusted to leave the United States by the designated date is preferable to being forced out.


An order of removal is decidedly less pleasant, particularly for those individuals for whom a life in the United States has long been a dream, as it places severe limitations on their ability to re-enter the country. (Five- to 10-year bans on re-entry are typical, although some individuals with serious criminal convictions can face lifetime bans.) Simply put, an individual will be issued an order of removal if they have no right to be in the United States or if they have violated the terms by which they were allowed to enter the country. An order of removal is carried out by ICE within 90 days of its being handed down. In other words, an individual must leave the country on the agency’s terms, rather than on their own.

Regardless of the specifics of your case, you are entitled to consult with a legal professional if you face removal from the United States.