x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

ID chaos worsens as holidays loom

Hundreds of thousands of people will miss the deadline to obtain identity cards, a senior official admits.

DUBAI // Hundreds of thousands of people will miss the deadline to obtain identity cards, a senior official admitted yesterday. An estimated 90 per cent of Emiratis and expatriate professionals have not yet registered and there are no appointments available for the rest of the year, said Thamer al Qasemi, the planning director for the ID card project at the Emirates Identity Authority (EIDA).

Registration centres are processing about 5,000 applications a day and could still handle more walk-in customers, he said. "Our capacity is 7,000 per day at the registration centres. If there is 400,000 or 500,000 people who have missed out by the end of the year, we will keep going forward? If you miss the deadline, you handle the consequences alone." EIDA registration centres will be closed for the National Day and Eid al Adha holidays. All government departments are to close on Dec 2-14, and again for New Year, leaving only a few weeks for half a million Emiratis and professional expatriates to get their cards.

"We are going to enjoy the holiday," he said. "There has never been any plan to open during the holidays. We are part of the government, we go by the government regulations. "It doesn't mean that people cannot come and register after the New Year, but after the New Year we will be opening registration to new categories and will try to prioritise registration for those people," he said. No deadlines have been set for the next category of guest workers to obtain ID cards.

Mr Qasemi said that some of those people, panicked by the threat of fines, registered early, contributing to crowds at the EIDA centres. "Of course that created a problem," he said. "We try not to turn anybody back. These people who are not professionals represent the minority of people at the centres, but it has created a little bit of a problem." He estimated that about 60,000 people had registered for cards in the past month, about 10 per cent of the professional expatriates and Emiratis who are supposed to be issued cards by the New Year.

Professional expatriates, including anyone with a university degree, are meant to face restrictions on accessing services - including health care and, possibly, the banking system - if they cannot produce ID cards after Dec 31. Emiratis, who have had several years to register, face fines of Dh1,000 (US$272) if they do not have cards by then. Mr Qasemi said that even if an Emirati came forward to register on Jan 1, he or she would be fined.

He said the registration form available at the EIDA website had been made easier to download this week. "When the new form was put on, within one hour 30,000 people had downloaded it. The message is getting through to people, the form is accessible, and now nobody can complain about the form. We expect things to go faster." gmcclenaghan@thenational.ae