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ID card deadline relief

Government will have discretion to provide expatriates with services even if they have not obtained their national identity card on time.

Government departments will have the discretion to provide expatriates with services even if they have not obtained their national identity card by the Feb 28 deadline, a senior Emirates Identity Authority (EIDA) official said yesterday. Emiratis, who have had more than 12 months to register, will not be given the same leeway. Any Emirati who does not register by the end of March will face a Dh1,000 (US$367) fine and will lose access to services provided by government departments, said Thamer al Qasemi, the EIDA planning director.

The deadline for Emiratis to register was extended by three months late last week after thousands failed to sign up in time and registration centres struggled to cope with a last-minute rush. Earlier this month expatriate professionals, who started registering in June, were given an extra two months to register for the cards when the deadline was extended from Dec 31 to Feb 28. An estimated 400,000 expatriates still must register by the February deadline but will not face fines until the end of 2010.

However, Mr al Qasemi said it was up to each government sector to grant or deny services to expatriates who had not applied for ID cards after the Feb 28 deadline. After the Dec 31, 2010 deadline, expatriates will also be fined and become ineligible for government services. "There is a transitional period for Emiratis and white-collar expatriates. After the transition period, we will move on to the next category and there will be no preferential treatment for white-collar workers. They will have to wait in line with everybody else," he said. People were trying to find excuses for not registering, he said, even though notifications had run in the Arabic media since summer. "Some people were saying they did not know their children had to register or they didn't know about it. We believe we have done an excellent job with the centre's infrastructure and distribution of the information. But it is not good enough for everybody to come in at the last minute." Over the past three days, more than 800 people, mainly Emiratis, signed up, far fewer than the numbers the centres could have handled. The EIDA can process as many as 7,000 applications a day, Mr al Qasemi said. "We have a lot of room for everybody." All the centres were open during the recent holidays. "There were a few people going in and now is the best time. There are several centres across the Emirates. I ask people to check online to see where their nearest one is." Registration centres were swamped in recent months after professionals, including anyone holding a university degree, were told they would be denied government services, including health care, after Dec 31 without ID cards. There are 12 registration centres in Abu Dhabi, six in Dubai and two each in Sharjah, Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah. Umm al Qaiwain and Ajman each have one. Administrative workers, including secretaries, translators, typists and shopkeepers, as well as expatriates employed in the hotel, restaurant and tourism industries, can apply from March 1. In October, registration will start for the estimated three million construction workers in the country. eharnan@thenational.ae

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