Many anxious professionals are unsure of what they have to do and what will happen to them if they fail to register in time.
ID deadline firm despite chaos
The man in charge of the UAE's identity card scheme said last night that the deadline for registration would not be extended past the end of the year, even though the Emirates Identity Authority appears to lack the capacity to cope with the hundreds of thousands of nationals and expatriates who have been told to register by Dec 31. "Residents can't be valid with government organisations after January," said Thamer Rashed Al Qasemi, planning director of the EIDA. "There will be no change to the deadline."
The registration system appeared in danger of being overwhelmed yesterday by the sheer number of expatriate professionals alarmed by last week's revelation that they must register by the end of the year or lose access to all government-related services. All Emiratis must be registered by the end of the year, and face fines and even prison sentences if they are not, but until recently expatriates had been given to understand that they had until the end of 2010 to register for their cards.
That remains the deadline, and the Government says expatriates will not face fines until then, but last week it emerged that after Dec 31 expatriates without an identity card would be unable to visit a doctor, register a mobile phone, open a bank account, enrol children in school or even buy or rent property. Mr Qasemi said the registration campaign for expatriates had been launched in June: "We said in our advertisements not to leave it to the last minute." However, while he said adverts had been carried in Arabic newspapers, he was unable to confirm that any were published in English-language newspapers.
"Arabic is the official language of the UAE," he added. Emiratis had been advised to start registering in April, he said, but had been slow to do so. "We were registering 10 per cent of our capacity and now they are all coming in at once. In September, we registered only 12,000." In addition to the estimated 400,000 or more expatriate professionals who have now been told to register by the end of the year, 200,000 Emiratis have still not applied for their ID cards.
The EIDA, said Mr Qasemi, had the capacity to register approximately 100,000 applicants a month across the Emirates. "There is still 500,000 to 600,000 left to register... nobody showed up. It is a pathetic situation and it's unfortunate." Yesterday queues began to form at 6.30am outside Al Karama Post Office, one of the EIDA's main registration centres in Dubai. Despite assurances last week that the process would take each applicant no longer than 15 minutes, many faced waits of hours.
"I reached here at 7.30am and there were already 100 people ahead of me," said K Kholid, a Philippine expat who was making his second attempt to register. It was now midday and he had been told he might be waiting until 10pm. "I just got to the final stage but am too frustrated to wait any longer," he said. "I got my form online and despite that I have to wait for so long. Many here are just waiting to get the form and fill it up.
"This is my second day and hopefully I will have the patience to get it done next time." Confused and anxious residents poured into the centre throughout the day. Most had no concrete information about what they had to do, by when they had to do it or what penalty, if any, they faced if they failed to register by the end of the year. "Many of us are worried that we would be fined if we do not get the cards," said Arvind Sudhakaran. "We are here just to check for ourselves on how much time we have got."
People of many nationalities, including a large number of Indians, as well as Filipinos, Pakistanis and Arab nationals, packed the waiting area, although Europeans were conspicuous by their absence. Some slept on seats while others swapped horror stories about how long they had been there. "They take an hour to move from one person to another," said one. "They really need more people here." There was, said another, "a separate counter for those who have registered online and that seems to be moving faster".
That, however, appeared to be wishful thinking. People who had registered online for appointments said they had also waited a long time to be seen. "My family and I registered online and we got an SMS message that gave us an appointment of 12.15pm," said an Indian man who had come to the centre with his wife and two young children. "But I see that they are running much behind the schedule and it looks like I will have to wait for hours. I do not understand why they give us appointments if they can't keep it."
Time and time again, the hard-pressed officials manning the counters had to try to explain what one admitted was a confusing registration process. The waiting period, he conceded, was far too long; the centre was open from 7.30am to 10pm but did not accept new applicants after 6pm. Application forms can be downloaded online, free of charge, at the authority's website - emiratesid.ae - or picked up at the centres, where they cost Dh40. They can also be collected at any Emirates Post office, also for a charge of Dh40, where they can also be submitted, in which case applicants receive a letter notifying them of an appointment.
In theory, appointments can also be made by telephoning a single number at the authority - 600 523432. However, after repeated attempts yesterday to get through, it emerged that such was the demand for registration appointments that none was available in Abu Dhabi before Nov 27. The situation in the capital yesterday was just as bad as in Dubai.Emiratis and expatriates queued for hours at the identity-card office at the Ministry of Municipalities, near Airport Road.
"The place is like a zoo," said Pete Comber, 60, a Briton who works at the capital's Civil Aviation Authority and who had waited with his wife for almost five hours. "There are people everywhere. You wait and wait and then get shuttled from one desk to another. It's a joke." firstname.lastname@example.org