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I came to the USA on a B1/B2 visa and left as planned after three weeks. I tried to hand in the DHS Departure Record to the officer at the airport passport control but he was not interested. I still have it now. I heard that when people leave with a commercial airline, the departure is recorded automatically. Can I be sure of this and that I will not have problems with the immigration officials in the future?

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How did you leave the US? It sounds like it was by air but not an airline? Was it a charter flight? Which airport did you leave from and what was your destination? I almost had this same problem once when crossing the border as the only gringo on a Mexican bus from San Antonio (but one helpful person on the bus told me what I had to do before it was too late). –  hippietrail Aug 16 '11 at 9:25
    
I left with Iberia, flight Chicago O'Hare -> Madrid-Barajas. I probably did not express myself clearly before. I did not go on a short trip to Mexico or Canada, I just returned permanently to where I came from (Munich). –  Dmitry Chornyi Aug 16 '11 at 11:58
    
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3 Answers

I am not sure how it works when you leave the US on a commercial airline, but to answer the general question: Yes, that could be a problem.

When leaving the U.S. for Mexico you may forget about the departure card. In Tijuana for example you just go through a revolving gate with no US or Mexican border officials anywhere in sight.

I was on my way to Argentina, so I had no intention to come back to the US anytime soon. After finding some Mexican officials to get my entry stamp I walked back over the freeway to the other side to the area where you enter the US from Mexico. I called a US border official to the fence and handed him my departure record. He asked whether I would come back to the US and then took it. I asked him what would have happened if I hadn't give it back to him.

He explained: As the US had no record of me leaving the country, after the 90 days I would have been considered an illegal alien living in the US. It would be on record and the next time I would enter the US I could be in trouble and could be refused entry.

Later one in Mexico I met several people who also crossed over from the US and did not give back their departure record at the border. I convinced them to hand in their card at the next US consulate.

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Same happened to me earlier this year. As far as i know this is a multi entry card, went to Mexico for a short trip and nobody at the border asked me for it.

Rest assured, they have your records on file and also know where and when you board a plane - even outside the US.

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There is some rule about how far you go over the Mexico border but I can't remember if it's a US rule or a Mexican rule. I think the latter. But yes it could've caused problems later if you were going into Mexico and not coming back across the border like me. –  hippietrail Aug 16 '11 at 9:27
    
“They” might know a lot about you but it does not mean this information will be available when you need it. Specifically, I am pretty sure intelligence services gather data about flights anywhere in the world but that does not mean that a consulate or immigration officers will know about that or accept these data as proof of anything when you need it. –  Annoyed Jan 28 at 19:26
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Per the CBP website, short-term visitors (< 30 days) can retain their I-94 departure record for subsequent visits. As such, most countries are straying away from paper documents for their fallibility, and moving to electronic record keeping for border entry and exit - for visitors and citizens alike.

Further clarification from the website -

In general, if you have been admitted to the United States under most visa classifications if you take a short trip (30 days or less) to Canada or Mexico, you may retain your I-94/I-94W, so that when you resume your visit to the United States you are readmitted for the balance of the time remaining on your I-94/I-94W.

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