x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Single card for residents next year

Residency permits, labour cards and the national ID are to be merged into one card and a single application process.

A registration administrator takes finger prints at Emirates Identity Authority registration centre in Dubai.
A registration administrator takes finger prints at Emirates Identity Authority registration centre in Dubai.

Residency permits, labour cards and the national ID will be merged into one card - and a single applicationprocess - from next July. "There are too many hurdles for people to go through when they come and settle in the country," Dr Ali al Khouri, the acting director of the Emirates Identity Authority said yesterday. "This new process will consolidate three major steps into one."

Those steps are overseen by the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Labour and the authority. Each ministry will still be responsible for approving applications in its area, but the application process will be overseen entirely by the authority. "Each of these require their own application forms," said Dr al Khouri. "So you have to fill three forms and three different payments. That's too much."

Currently, those processes require trips to several different offices around the city. Under the new system, however, applicants will go to one of the authority's offices and fill out a single form. After medical tests at Sheikh Khalifa Medical Centre, they would return to the original office and be assigned a date to return to pick up their unified card. "You will be given an appointment for when to come back and pick up your card. Our goal is reduce this time to 15 minutes," said Dr al Khouri.

"We will start with newcomers as it is more practical. They will be required to fill one application form and make one payment. So when they go to the preventive medicine [at Sheikh Khalifa Medical Centre] to get tested, they will have their fingerprints taken, iris scan and facial biometrics." For those who already hold national ID cards, no additional action will be needed, Dr al Khouri said. Those cards will be linked to residency and labour permits, although he could not provide a specific date for that integration.

The existing offices for obtaining the national ID card - there are 20 nationwide - will be able to scan all submitted documents and transmit the data to a separate office that will check all the information against a Ministry of Interior database, he said. Those entering the country will also have their irises scanned at airports and border crossings. Besides streamlining the process for residents, the new processes will also play an important role for the Government, he said.

Officials also believe that consolidating all the information into a unified database will help in solving and preventing crime, as well as help authorities plan public services. The database will be accessible to the Ministry of Interior and police, the Ministry of Labour and the Emirates Identity Authority. "This has more to do with serving the public. A major part of serving the public is also protecting them," Dr al Khouri said.

"Once a national database is complete we will make better decisions, offer better services and customise our planning." The recently announced national DNA database, which is scheduled to be deployed within a year by the Ministry of Interior for fighting crime, would not have much impact on the national ID system, Dr al Khouri said. "We have explored the issue of consolidating the DNA database with the national ID, but we agreed that at this stage we will not be doing that. The vision is to have one prime database."

The gathering of such information about individuals has raised privacy issues and illustrated the differing views among the different nationalities here. "There is a huge debate about privacy. People were asking, 'Why do we need another card?' We already have passports, but passports are a travel document. "We need to come to terms that a national ID is a part of the Government's strategy to offer better services and safeguard the public."

When the card was first introduced, Dr al Khouri said, it was not popular. "I will admit that we did not market the card properly at the outset. So now we are wanting to market it in such a way that shows how beneficial it is for people to have." Although Dr al Khouri has declined to give any figures on how many expatriates and nationals have registered for the card to date, he said: "There is great progress, I will say that. Instead of forcing people to get the card we are now marketing what it can do."

Last week, Dr al Khouri represented the country at the FutureGov 2009 Summit in Bali, where the national ID programme was recognised as one of the top five government projects in Asia. myoussef@thenational.ae