The "Subject Access Request" or "SAR" is a provision in the Data Protection Act 1998. It serves as a formal pathway for an individual to find out what information the authorities are keeping about them. Accordingly, it is a very popular mechanism for people who have had problems with a UK regulator, especially the immigration authorities.
There is a wide consensus on the net that submitting an SAR is 'best practices' for a person who has been removed (i.e., involuntarily expelled). It can also be useful in some visa refusals. At this site, we're largely in agreement with this lore.
I want to point out that the UK is a specific case that has been implemented as an EU-wide regulation. All member states have a counterpart to the SAR. The procedure is largely the same, you start by downloading the form. It's an MS-Word document.
This is a very straight-forward form, but let's focus on Parts A and B...
The big kicker here is "...We will only send you the data that you have requested...". They will also not send anything that might help the individual evade immigration controls. And they will not disclose who they have shared the person's information with.
Removal papers have a reference number on the top, and visa applications have a GWF number. You can use these to ask for example...
- All information leading to the removal of (name) on (date) reference
- All information leading to the refusal of (name) with GWF number
- All information about the subject of this request (name, date of
birth, nationality) (passport number)
Or whatever else you want. The important thing is to be generic enough without being vague (resulting in them discarding the SAR).
There is a statutory fee (GBP 10) and a somewhat tedious stage where you clear the DPA identification hurdles.
After all of that and if they decide to honour the request, you will get what they want to release. They are entitled to play cat-and-mouse and they will do it whenever they get the chance. It's in their DNA and if you are not experienced with it, then get a solicitor to handle the SAR. They will be able to navigate the various hurdles and to detect and crush a cat-and-mouse gambit. For timing purposes, it's about 3 to 6 months. For some cases, undertaking an SAR is a fundamentally necessary step, a solicitor can help you decide if it's necessary or not.
All UK ministries have the same procedure for example HMRC.