Ask friends about ID cards and you’ll most likely get this sort of response: ‘The deadline’s not until 2010; I’ll worry about it later.’ This is just the approach that annoys Thamer Al Qasemi, planning director for Emirates Identity Authority. Dubaians still seem to assume that ID cards will be forgotten about, but he says the truth is far different. ‘Apart from a few hundred latecomers, Emiratis are now all signed up. If you’re local and don’t have a card, you won’t receive all government services,’ he warns.
Emiratis were the first group who had to meet the ID deadline. Now it’s time for expats, and it quite clearly states on the Emirates ID website that professional expats (anyone with a degree) should have applied before February 2009. Most other industries follow on until June, then it’s the turn for unskilled workers until the end of September, followed by blue collar workers to the end of 2010.
Although no services have been withdrawn for expats who missed the February deadline, this softly, softly approach won’t last indefinitely. ‘Everyone will be complaining when there are queues at the centres,’ says Al Qasemi. ‘But the simple fact is this: in 2010, you will have a complete denial of government services, and there will be fines.’ Even banks and residency visas? ‘The law doesn’t specify what services. It just says “all services”. I don’t want to talk about specifics like banks and hospitals, but the law says everything.’
That’s still 18 months away, but there are some good reasons not to wait another 17 months to get your act together. Emiratis and professionals with degrees make up a small percentage of Dubai’s population. When it’s the turn of non-skilled workers and the blue collar sector to pick up their cards, hundreds of thousands will be going through the doors of the Emirates ID centres. ‘We have planned this for more than two years. It’s up to you to stick to the guidelines on the website,’ Al Qasemi warns.
Ah yes, the website. There are plenty of stories of people trying to book online appointments only to be told there are no spaces left. ‘Then just come to the centre,’ says Al Qasemi. ‘You’ll get a slot. The site is an add-on service,’ he explains. ‘Results have shown that 25 per cent of people who book online don’t show, so we need to allow people to drop in.’
One tip we’ve heard from friends is to go to other emirates to get a card, as the offices tend to be quieter. Al Qasemi agrees. ‘There is a new centre in Ras Al Khaimah, behind the police headquarters on Al Dhait Road.’
We ask Al Qasemi why they are so intent on delivering ID cards. ‘Accurate population statistics are vital,’ he says. ‘How can you plan for services if you don’t know the demographics of the area?’
What about the risk of data falling into the wrong hands? ‘No hacking tools can access the details, it has a counter-tamper and self-blocking facility; if stolen it can be immediately deactivated.’
Finally, does he believe his department will deliver a fully functioning system with everyone signed up by the final deadline? ‘We are confident that we can do it,’ he says. And if people don’t co-operate, what will happen? ‘We’ll go to plan B or C and get more strict.’ He laughs, but sounds like a man who means it.
How to get your card
Go to www.dubai.ae to book an appointment. Download the application form from the website free of charge, or buy it for Dhs40 from any Emirates Post office or the registration centres. Or turn up to any of Dubai’s four centres in Karama, Al Rashidiya, Barsha and Al Jafelia (see website for locations). Take your passport and application form. The card costs Dhs100 per year of visa validity, plus Dhs20 for Empost delivery.