x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

In search of an identity card

The National sent four expatriate reporters to register for their identity cards - these are the accounts of their attempts to do so.

Men take a number and wait, often for hours, to apply for their identification card at the Emirates Identity Authority.
Men take a number and wait, often for hours, to apply for their identification card at the Emirates Identity Authority.

Having read that the application for an ID card would take no more than 15 minutes, I set out to visit a centre. It was to be many days before I found myself anywhere near the beginning of that 15-minute process. On Wednesday morning I went to the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce, on the Corniche, with passport and photographs in hand, expecting to return to the office shortly after completing a simple application form. I was directed to a waiting room where I was told to book an appointment. Aware that the deadline for expatriate professionals was Dec 31, and that hundreds of thousands of expatriates had yet to register, I was surprised to discover that the first available appointment was on ... Dec 31. Determined not to leave the issue hanging over my head for the next two months, I headed to the Emirates Identity Authority headquarters, behind Carrefour on Airport Road. On the third floor, I found long queues of people who were bored, frustrated and confused. At the help desk I was told I first had to go to the typing section, where I would fill out an application form and pay a Dh40 fee. It was now 2.30pm. Some applicants told me they had been waiting since 10am to complete this part of the process. One man, a banker from India, said he had been coming to the centre for the past four days. "There is no uniformity in what we're being told," he said. "The help desk will say something, but another person will tell you something else. There is no clear system in place." I returned to the office and tried to download the online application form, to speed things up the following day. It was slow to load, it was slow to fill out and it was not helped by having to find my job description in a list of professions running to hundreds of pages. There were faith healers, industrial robot controllers and abrasive wheel formers. There were explosive product machine operators and sericulturists (silkworm farmers). After half an hour, I found "authors, journalists and other writers". Two hours later, I was able to print out a sheet of A4 paper bearing 11 bar codes. The following morning I was back at the centre at 10am. Armed with my form, I requested an appointment, but was told curtly to return at 7am on Monday as there were already too many applicants that day. Speaking to a Filipina, I realised I needed to alter my strategy. She had taken the day off work and begun queueing outside the centre at 5.30am. Among the first to receive a ticket when the centre opened at 7am, she had completed the procedure by 11.30am. Her ID card, she had been told, would arrive in the post after seven working days. - Robert Ditcham

I set out to book an appointment by telephone and, on the Emirates Identity Authority's website, it all looked so simple. "Call us: 600523432," it said. It took two hours of listening to an automated message telling me the number was busy before I got through to the automated system. After navigating the various choices, I chose to speak to customer services. It was a further 10 minutes before I got through, only to be told that all appointments in Abu Dhabi were booked for the next three weeks - up to Nov 27. The good news, the customer serviceman said, was that I could go to one of the three centres which had been set up in Abu Dhabi. Two - one in the Municipality building behind the Carrefour on Airport Road, the other in the head office near the Abu Dhabi Exhibition Centre - were for those with appointments only. He directed me to the centre at the Abu Dhabi Police Officers Club, on the outskirts of the city, which he said would be open from 7.30am to 2.30pm. I already knew I would have to bring along my passport, with my residency visa, but he told me I would also need a letter from the company confirming I was employed. There was nothing on the website about this. There was one other bit of news that appeared to contradict what officials had told the media: expatriates who failed to register by the end of the year would be fined, although the size of the penalty had yet to be set. I would have to pay Dh40 for the registration form that would be available at the club and Dh20 more for delivery, which after registration could take 15 days to a month. He also provided me with a number for the Abu Dhabi Police Officers Club. When I tried calling the following morning, the phone rang but no one answered. I looked it up and I realised I had been given the wrong number. Once I got through, I was told the centre was very busy and it would be better if I delayed my visit until the following week. I decided to go anyway, but was not allowed in and was asked to come back the following day, as early as possible - from 6.30am onwards. That afternoon I called 600523432 again. This time I got through to a representative within 10 minutes. However, she told me there was no point in my going to the Abu Dhabi Police Officers Club: it was a registration centre for nationals only. There were two centres in Abu Dhabi dedicated to registering expatriates, but I would have to make an appointment to visit them. They were, however, completely booked for the whole of November. I asked if I could make an appointment for December, but was told no more appointments could be made until the middle of November. When I said I was worried about being fined, she said there were no fines for expatriates. - Suryatapa Bhattacharya

Why go to one of the crowded centres when the registration process will come to you? A welcome option offered on the Emirates Identity Authority's website. "In order to upgrade the service level and gain the customers' satisfaction," it said, "Emirates Identity Authority provides its customers with mobile registration service at their place of residence to relieve them from moving to the registration centres and proceed with the customised procedures." The service was available for families and individuals, it said. All I had to do was call 600523432 to "fix an appointment". My first problem was that it was impossible to get through on the number. Eventually I revisited the front page of the site and clicked on the heading "Appointment system - online booking". That led to three further options, including, to my surprise, one marked "Appointment for mobile service", which had not been listed as an option on the mobile services page. It took about seven minutes for the page to load. When it did, I completed an online form with my name, mobile number and other details. Given that I was seeking a home visit, it invited me to select a registration centre. After I sent the completed form, I received a text message with a nine-digit registration number, which I then entered online. Everything seemed to be going smoothly. But then the next page loaded. It asked me to select from a range of Sunday-to-Thursday dates, but the available times listed made no sense; I could choose from the "Morning Shift From 12:00AM to 12:00AM" and the "Evning [sic] Shift From 12:00AM to 12:00AM". Baffled, I opted for the evening shift. Three more minutes passed, at the end of which I was asked again to select the shift I wanted. I had run into an online cul-de-sac. I tried it three more times, each time with the same result. Have I made an appointment for a mobile visit? I have no idea. If I have, which day and at what time remains a mystery to me. - Hugh Naylor

I checked the website of the Emirates Identity Authority to find the nearest places for registration, and headed for the Department of Naturalisation and Residency Dubai, armed with passport and a book to read. It took me 20 minutes to find the registration area but when I did, I was told that the office was accepting applications only from Emiratis. Standing next to me was another expatriate, who had also expected to register. "It took me two hours to download the application form," she said, "and all the information on the website is incorrect." As she had already been turned away from the Road Traffic Authority, where she had been told they were registering employees only, I telephoned Tanmia, the National Human Resource Development and Employment Authority; only nationals could register there, I was told. I called the EIA and asked if the centres listed on the website were open to expatriates. "Of course," said the operator. I heard there was a centre in Barsha which had yet to be discovered by most of the expatriate population. By the time I arrived it was already midday and it was obvious my tip was off the mark. I was told they were too busy to accept any more applications and to go away and come back at 3pm. At 3pm I was given a ticket and told to join the queue at the typing pool, where one of the two typists would take my details and fill out my application form. It would cost me Dh40. Almost two hours later, having provided my educational qualifications, mother's maiden name and other apparently pointless biographical details, I emerged with a sheet of paper. By 7.30pm, I had reached the final stage. After paying another Dh320 (cash only, so if you turn up without enough money, like I did, you have to leave, find an ATM, and come back), I breezed through a photo opportunity, a fingerprinting session and some more questions. I say breezed; it took another half an hour but, by that point, anything less than two hours seemed like nothing. I had started at 10.30am. It was finally over just before 8pm. Advice? Bring two books, enough cash, a fully charged phone, perhaps a picnic, and a friend. I await my card. - Nour Samaha

Reading about the chaos in the ID card registration system makes me thankful I was an early bird. My family and I, Emiratis, went through the process in April. Nevertheless, there were complications. Having to complete seven e-forms online - one for each family member - was a time-consuming inconvenience, but frustration set in when we were unable to make an appointment on the authority's website, which simply failed to work. We printed out the forms, believing that it would save us the time filling them in again at the centre. Because we were unable to get an appointment online, we had to call the Emirates Identity Authority. We got an appointment for the following week, which was a relief; we feared a rush because announcements on the Arabic radio stations were urging Emiratis to register soon, before the process was extended to include expatriates. At the allotted time we went to the Municipality building behind Carrefour on Airport Road. My mother, sister and I headed for the female section, while my father and brothers waited at the men's. When we were called - on time - to have our forms scanned into the system we were told the machine could not read the bar codes on our forms. We had spent almost two hours completing the forms. We were told they could not be scanned because we had not printed them out on a laser printer. There had been no warning to this effect on the website. Now we were against the clock and fearful of missing our appointment slot. Luckily there was only one other family registering. We had to pay to have our forms filled out again, by an employee at the centre, at a charge of Dh40 each. Finally the forms were scanned successfully. After that, all that remained was to have our photographs and fingerprints taken. The whole process had taken about an hour and a half. We were told the cards would be sent to us to "soon". It was more than two months before we saw them. - Tala al Ramahi