x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

New strategy on expat ID cards

The Emirates Identity Authority steps up efforts to have the country's almost 5m expatriates registered for identity cards.

The Emirates Identity Authority in Abu Dhabi.
The Emirates Identity Authority in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI// The Emirates Identity Authority (Eida) has stepped up its efforts to have the country's almost five million expatriates registered for identity cards. In a new strategy, rather than simply asking segments of the population to register before a certain date, the authority is beginning to link access to certain services, such as renewing a driving licence, to those who have ID cards.

The scheme would be concurrent with the authority's present policy of requesting people to voluntarily register before a certain date, said Dr Ali al Khouri, the acting director general of Eida. "We haven't abandoned the existing enrolment plan, but this one will run alongside it." Although the full details of the scheme have not yet been released, the first phase was rolled out last week when the Ministry of Interior announced that Emiratis and expatriates in Ras al Khaimah, Ajman, Fujairah and Umm al Qaiwain would not be able to use licence and registration services after November 22 without an ID card.

"We believe that to make the registration much more effective, we need to link it to services. We are not talking about enrolling the whole population in those emirates yet, but if you want to benefit from a service like renewing your driving licence or car registration you will have to have an ID card," Dr al Khouri said yesterday. Eida has not yet revealed when the new strategy will be implemented in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai.

The ministry clarified that residents of Ajman, RAK, Umm al Qaiwain and Fujairah will still be able to renew residency visas without an ID card for the time being. However, the cards are expected to be a prerequisite for visa and immigration services in future. "If we believe that the registration points can accommodate the number of people that need visa renewals then they will be asked to have cards for that service too," Dr al Khouri said.

Eida was considering siting registration centres in official buildings such as the traffic department to ease the process, though there were issues over available space, he added. Most of the country's nationals have already registered for the cards, but many expatriates have yet to do so. Initially, Eida had asked specific groups of foreigners to sign up separately. Expatriate professionals, defined as those with university degrees, were the first group targeted and were supposed to have obtained ID cards by the end of last February.

However, only about half of them responded by the deadline, leaving an estimated 400,000 people unregistered. This was despite the fact that the deadline had already been extended as registration centres struggled to cope with demand. Dr al Khouri declined to say how many expatriates had still not applied. However, he said the November 22 deadline in the northern emirates would not affect expatriates such as labourers, as they did not use the specified services.

"Unskilled workers aren't customers of the traffic department so they aren't going to be affected by the deadline." He said he wanted the ID card application process to become an "extra simple step" for residents accessing a service and said such a policy would increase the numbers who used the registration centres, some of which were now operating at only 10 per cent capacity. Dr al Khouri and Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the Minister of Interior, will finalise the new strategy over the next two weeks. A "good number" of extra staff had been brought in to deal with the expected demand, said Dr al Khouri, although he did not reveal how many workers had been taken on. He said the authority was continuing to recruit staff.

Last month, Eida announced its plan to eventually merge most official personal documents, including labour cards, residency permits and driving licences, within the national ID card. That process is due to start in July next year. Officials believe having all such information on a unified database would aid crime prevention and detection, and help authorities plan public services more efficiently.

"With the global challenges everywhere, the database system is about protecting people," said Dr al Khouri. "The whole concept of ID cards isn't to get people's information in a database. It's not about just that; the Government's on a mission to protect people and that's the important thing." lmorris@thenational.ae