DUBAI // Expatriate professionals and Emiratis without identity cards may be denied access to their bank accounts from the start of next year, the project's manager has claimed. Thamer al Qasemi said the Emirates Identity Authority (EIDA) has discussed with the Central Bank ways in which the biometric ID card can be integrated in to the country's banking system. "We received initial approval that they will demand an ID card for services," he said. "I would not be surprised if they have taken such a decision already, but I have not heard it officially."
Access to most government services, including being able to rent or buy property, enrol a child in school, get a driving licence or visit a doctor will be refused to professional expatriates - which includes most people holding a university degree - if they do not have a biometric identity card by the beginning of the new year. Emirati nationals, who have been able to register for the cards since 2006, will be fined up to Dh1,000 (US $272) if they do not have a card after Dec 31. EIDA estimates that around 200,000 nationals have still not registered, and puts the number of white-collar expatriates in the country at around 400,000. Expatriates will not face fines until 2010.
Next year, the focus for the EIDA will be on trying to register the estimated three million blue-collar expatriates living and working in the UAE. Plans are under way to have mobile registration centres that can be driven to workers' accommodation camps. Mr Qasemi said restricting access to government services would make people realise the importance of registering for an ID card. "We are working with all the government agencies and some of the private sector. We are saying to them, that [after Dec 31] if a national comes to you, he needs an ID, if he is a resident working for the government, he needs an ID. If he is an expat who is a professional, then he also needs an ID. These are the categories we are calling up - they can't refuse access to services to other categories until we call upon them."
However, sources in the banking industry said they did not think it would be possible to refuse people access to their accounts without an ID card for some time to come. "We haven't been informed of anything like that," said one member of staff at the Commercial Bank of Dubai. "Eventually the ID cards will be used instead of passport copies, because all the customer's information will be stored on there, and it will be more secure than a passport, but the passport copy will continue to be used initially."
He said he thought it would take between six months and a year before the use of ID cards became mandatory. "The banks cannot introduce something like this until at least 80 to 90 per cent of the population have their cards, and in my opinion only about 50 to 70 per cent will have completed their application and received their cards by the end of the year." The Central Bank could not be contacted for comment.
* Additional reporting by Nour Samaha