DUBAI // Half a million Emiratis and expatriate professionals have only two months to obtain a national ID card or they will lose access to health care and other government-related services, the Emirates Identity Authority (EIDA) disclosed yesterday.
The card will contain face and fingerprint scans and personal information, including passport and driving licence details, address, residency status and qualifications. Registering for it costs Dh100 (US$27) for adults and Dh50 for children. Between 300,000 and 400,000 expatriate professionals across the UAE, including doctors, lawyers, teachers and engineers, are required to register for their biometric identity card by Dec 31 - not within two years, as was previously announced. In another change, all children need an ID card, not just those above 15.
There are also 200,000 Emiratis, out of about 835,000, who have yet to register for the programme and must do so by Dec 31. From Jan 1 onward, any Emirati citizen or expatriate deemed to have a "white-collar" profession by the EIDA who does not have a card will be denied access to any business involving a government department. That means they will be unable to visit a doctor, register a mobile phone, open a bank account, enrol their child in school or buy or rent property.
Professional Emiratis began registering for the cards in January with their deadline to obtain one passing months ago. If they are not registered by Jan 1, they will face fines of up to Dh1,000. Expatriates will not face fines until 2010. Expatriates have also been signing up for the cards for months now. But news that they only had two months - not two years - to obtain one came as a shock to some, who wondered why they were not given more notice.
"The concept is good, but that is an incredibly short amount of time to get people to register," said Christopher Frost, an oil and gas technician from Australia. "I had only heard this will be done in the future and was not expecting it to be so soon. And how are they going to issue identification cards to those who work on oil rigs and other off-shore facilities?" Salama Taha, a school teacher and mother of five who is originally from Palestine, was worried about the cost of registering her family, and said she had thought the scheme only applied to Emiratis.
"I believe they have good reasons for implementing this, but where do I go and register?" she asked. "If the deadline is January, it is too short notice to get my five children registered when I have to worry about work, schooling and holidays." The deadline was brought forward so that any problems with the system could be ironed out before the massive task of registering the estimated three million people designated as "blue collar" gets under way next year, said Thamer Rashed al Qasemi, the planning director of the project at EIDA.
Other than giving examples of professions that have been classified as white collar, Mr Qasemi could not explain how the categories have been defined. And although it has taken eight months to process more than 600,000 Emiratis and a small number of expatriates, he insisted the 28 EIDA centres were equipped to process half a million people in the next 10 weeks. "Looking at the numbers that we have registered and our capabilities, we are able to register the categories we have called upon now," he said. "In order for the ID card to be active and services activated, you need to have a good number of people registered. We are capable of handling this amount of people."