A Guide to Immigration Subject Access Requests
Subject Access Requests (SARs) are an essential tool for individuals and their lawyers, especially when it comes to immigration and nationality law. This post looks at what they are, why they are important, and how to make an Immigration Subject Access Request.
What is a Subject Access Request?
The legal basis for making a Subject Access Request in the UK is found in the Data Protection Act 2018 and the UK General Data Protection Regulation (‘the UK GDPR’). The 2018 Act is supposed to implement the UK GDPR (although recent cases like R (Open Rights Group & the3million) v Secretary of State for the Home Department & Anor  EWCA Civ 800 have shown the 2018 Act holds some shortcomings in this respect).
Under the Data Protection Act 2018, you have a right to know what information the government and other organisations hold about you. The way you find out this information is by making a Subject Access Request (often referred to as a ‘SAR’).
A SAR is a request by an individual for their own personal information. It can be made by an individual (or their legal representative), and is made to a ‘data controller’. A data controller is any business, organisation or government body which holds and uses your personal data. Personal data might include an extremely wide range of information, including records of travel in and out of the UK, visa applications, bill payments, CCTV footage, taxation or banking records, medical data and much more.
Why are Subject Access Requests important?
The ability to find out the information that a data controller holds about you is an important right, which helps you protect your privacy, and ensure your information is held in lawful ways, in line with the data protection principles.
On top of the essential protection of your data rights, Subject Access Requests offer an invaluable and highly flexible tool that can assist an individual in finding out personal information which they may have lost, forgotten, or never known, and that they now need. This can be very helpful when people do not keep hold of seemingly useless old papers which turn out, often years later, to be essential to proving your presence in the UK, or showing other things that have or have not taken place.
Examples of where a Subject Access Request can assist are nearly endless, but in an immigration context might include:
- Getting proof of your previous immigration applications, for example to show that you have always had immigration status in the UK;
- Getting proof you were in the UK from a certain time. This can help in immigration applications which rely on your long residence in the UK;
- Getting proof of your entries and exits from the UK. This can help in immigration and nationality applications where you need to show your travel history, or how many days you have been absent from the UK;
- Getting proof you contacted or visited a GP or hospital at a certain time, or told them certain information. This can be helpful in cases where it is necessary to prove domestic violence took place, or that a person was severely unwell at the time their visa needed to be renewed;
- Getting proof from HMRC that you were paying tax or claiming benefits in the UK at a certain time. This can help in immigration and nationality applications, including for Europeans and their family, where it is necessary to show you were ‘qualified’ as a worker;
- Getting proof from a previous employer that you used to work for them;
- Getting your arrest or conviction history. This can help prove you have no pending prosecutions or that a criminal history is not serious enough to warrant refusal, continued detention or other enforcement action;
- Finding out from UKVI or HM Passport Office any reasons for delay in your immigration, nationality or passport application, and what, if anything, has been done to advance your case. This can help when considering whether to challenge long delays in deciding applications.
Depending on exactly what you need to prove, Subject Access Requests can help in a very wide range of ways.
How do I make a Subject Access Request?
It is usual to apply to smaller data controllers, for instance GPs or employers, in writing. They will require a copy of your passport or other identity document, and a letter specifying who you are, and the information you would like from them. A useful general template for Subject Access Requests is found at the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) website.
Some data controllers, especially bodies which have to process a large number of Subject Access Requests like UKVI or HM Passport Office, ask that requests are made in particular ways. These bodies often ask for a significant amount of identity information, including address histories, parents’ details, past identity document details, details of past immigration applications and more.
Unless your request is ‘manifestly unfounded or excessive’, your request should be free, and usually you should receive your requested records within one month. If a data controller needs more time, they can have up to another two months, but they should let you know within one month that they need more time and explain why. Where a Subject Access Request is being made to assist with an immigration application, it is usually sensible to make the SAR well in advance of any deadline (e.g. the expiry of leave), so there is time for the response to come back.
For immigration purposes, Subject Access Requests are usually made to large government bodies like UKVI, HMPO, HMRC or ACRO (the police). The ways these SARs are made are set out below. It is important to note that not being able to answer all the questions or provide all the documents asked for should not prevent you from making a SAR. As long as you are able to prove who you are, you should be able to get the information you require.
Subject Access Requests to UK Visas and Immigration
To make a Subject Access Request to UKVI, you use the online application form. You are asked to include a certified copy of your photo identification (e.g. your passport), a letter giving permission for your records to be sent to you or your representative, and if you are applying for a child under 12 years old, proof of your relationship to them (e.g. their birth certificate showing you as their parent).
You will need to select from three options, specifying the type and amount of information you want. These are:
- Specific requests, which are for up to five single documents (e.g. a decision letter, deportation order, or interview record);
- Detailed requests, which are for a summary of your whole immigration history held in the UKVI records;
- Basic requests, which should provide your immigration history, your landing cards, your visa applications, and your travel history.
Subject Access Requests to HM Passport Office
Subject Access Requests to HMRC
HMRC allows you to apply online or in writing. The online form is found here for National Insurance Records, and here for all other information HMRC holds. You will be asked for your address history for the last five years and your National Insurance number.
Subject Access Requests to ACRO Criminal Records Office
Requests for your police records are made here. ACRO requests a ten year address history, as well as other information. Note that SARs made to ACRO will not only allow you to see any conviction history, but also an arrest history, even where an arrest did not lead to charges or a conviction.
Contact Our Immigration Barristers
If you would like our assistance with making a Subject Access Request to the Home Office, HM Passport Office or any other organisation for information held about you in relation to your immigration or nationality, please contact our team of Immigration barristers – specialists in the UK immigration law at Richmond Chambers on 0203 617 9173 or via our online enquiry form.