Immigration authorities will send a Notice to Appear to a foreign national who has been placed in removal proceedings. This will provide the date and location of their removal hearing. While you should try to attend the scheduled hearing on the NTA, sometimes a foreign national will need to ask for a continuance to reschedule it. They can file a motion for a continuance with the immigration judge, who will have substantial discretion in determining whether to grant it. A foreign national may benefit from hiring an attorney if they need to seek a continuance.
Regardless of whether you hire an attorney, you should file your motion for a continuance as soon as you can after you receive the Notice to Appear. Your motion can provide certain alternative dates that would work for you, although the judge will not necessarily grant one of these dates. If you proceed without an attorney, you should take care to follow all of the relevant procedural rules and deadlines, even if they seem trivial. You will need to send a copy of the motion to the government attorney handling the removal case against you.
Possible Grounds for a Continuance
The foreign national or their attorney will need to explain in writing why they need a continuance. The judge will consider the specific facts of their situation in reviewing the motion. Additional documents attached to the motion can help show that you have good cause to request a continuance. A judge will be more receptive to a motion for a continuance if the foreign national can show that they would face an extreme hardship if they were required to attend the currently scheduled hearing, or that an immediate family member would face an extreme hardship. For example, they might have a medical reason to request a continuance, which could be supported by a note from their doctor.
You probably will not be able to get a continuance if you are simply arguing that you need more time to prepare your case or that you cannot get the day off from work. Repeated requests for continuances are less likely to be granted than an initial request.
If the judge grants your request, they probably will reschedule the hearing for about a month after the hearing date on the NTA. Sometimes the process will take longer, depending on the judge’s schedule.
When the Judge Takes No Action
You must attend the scheduled removal hearing if the judge does not rule on your motion for a continuance. Only if the judge specifically issues an order to grant your motion can you refrain from attending. An immigration judge has the power to make decisions in these hearings in the absence of the foreign national, so failing to show up could have a serious negative impact on your case. You cannot appeal a removal order from a hearing at which you did not appear, while you can appeal a removal order if you appeared at the hearing. Your only option if you did not appear would be filing a motion to reopen the decision, but these motions are rarely granted.
Even arriving late at a hearing can result in a removal order being issued in your absence. You should make sure to allow plenty of time to get to the immigration court building, go through security, and find the courtroom.