x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Keeping the identity queue moving

Emirates Identity Authority registration centre staff face the daily challenge of processing hundreds of tired and frustrated applicants.

People wait for their turn at the Emirates Identity Authority registration centre in Al Barsha in Dubai.
People wait for their turn at the Emirates Identity Authority registration centre in Al Barsha in Dubai.

DUBAI // It is almost midday and the waiting area at the Emirates Identity Authority registration centre in Al Barsha is packed with people dozing, reading and staring glumly at the floor. Many have been here since before the doors opened at 7.30am, hoping to be one of the first in the queue to have their details, photograph and fingerprints taken for the new national identity cards, which, for the dozens of Emirati families who are waiting, becomes compulsory from midnight on Dec 31. For the staff whose job it is to register all these people, it is a typical day at the office. There is an aura of calm and they are full of smiles as they process each application, although they are busier this month as the deadline looms.

"When new staff join I explain to them that customers are coming here with a lot of different faces," said Hamda al Suwaidi, the head customer service officer for the Al Barsha centre. "Some are happy with our service, and some are unhappy or angry, and we have to be able to solve their problems. "In general people are very nice when they see we are trying to help them. A lot of our staff have been here for one or two years now, so they know how everything works and are able to solve any problems."

Yousef Ahmad al Boloshi, the centre's director, said the publication this month of a revised schedule for registration, which sets out when different categories of people are expected to come and register for the card, had helped the public understand what they must do and consequently made it easier for his staff to deal with them. "Before some of them were quite stressed and confused. Mainly they were people who had not looked at our website and who do not read the newspapers, so they did not have the right information. That does not happen nearly as much now. The schedule is very clear and it is easy to explain it to them."

Under the revised schedule, Emiratis still must obtain cards by Dec 31, and they face a fine of Dh1,000 if they do not. Expatriate professionals, including anyone with a degree, have been given until the end of February to sign up, after which priority will be given to other categories of resident workers. Expatriates will be fined only if they do not obtain cards by 2010. "At the moment, most of the people we are seeing coming to register are Emirati," Mr al Boloshi said. "The number of expatriates has dropped off since the schedule was released, but I think it will start to pick up again in the new year.

"It is going smoothly. We are very busy, but we are open six days a week and are processing 450 to 500 applications at this centre each day. Sometimes people do come with complaints, but we are always trying to improve our service." One man who was trying to have a complaint resolved at the centre was Bilal Sabouni from the US, who said he had still not received his card despite going through the registration process more than a month ago.

"They are trying to find out what's going on," he said. "Nobody seems to know what has happened to it. They are very nice, though. I don't have any complaints about the way I've been dealt with, except that it's taking a long time." gmclenaghan@thenational.ae