More time to sign up for Emirates ID cards

Enrolment should be over by 2013 as visas for expatriates expire in three years or when people enter the airport or use vital services.

ABU DHBAI // Only one in 10 foreign residents has signed up for an Emirates ID card, and officials are backing off from a plan to have every resident obtain one by the end of the year. Instead, the Emirates ID Authority will issue the card when people enter the country, when they seek services such as health care or a driving licence, or when they renew residency visas.

The authority hopes to enrol the entire population in the next three years as residency visas expire, said Ali al Khouri, deputy head of the authority's higher committee. "It doesn't seem possible, based on the latest population statistics, to enrol everyone this year," Mr al Khouri said. The ID is now mandatory for drivers registering a vehicle or applying for a licence, Mr al Khouri said, and will eventually be required for all government services. It will also eventually allow residents to travel within the GCC without a passport.

The UAE has had difficulty persuading expatriates to register for the cards. While about 90 per cent of UAE nationals have registered for new IDs, only 10 per cent of foreign residents have signed up. The authority has so far enrolled about two million people. This year, the threat of service cuts prompted residents to flood registration centres, but the centres were not able to accommodate the high volume of people waiting hours to be interviewed, photographed and fingerprinted.

"The marketing-orientated approach wasn't working," Mr al Khouri said. "So much money was spent on a campaign asking people to enrol when capacity was limited." The authority expects to boost capacity at established centres to 20,000 people a day this spring from a current maximum of 7,000 people. New equipment and an open-plan layout have improved the flow of people and cut the wait time to under five minutes.

At a new registration centre in Musaffah this week, Sidhique Cp, a security guard who lives in Abu Dhabi, was quickly seated for a photograph and fingerprint scan after arriving with a representative from the company he works for. The entire process took about three minutes. "It takes no time really," Mr Cp said. "I was very pleased to not have to wait." Mubarak al Mansoori, the supervisor at the centre, said the open floor plan and single registration units were much more effective than the old system of separate rooms for document review and photographs. "People … are often surprised by how quickly it goes."

By the end of this year, registration for ID cards will take place at all medical centres where residents are tested before receiving residency visas. There are an estimated 9,000 to 15,000 daily transactions of new and renewal residency permits in the UAE. There will also be a unified application process for residency visas, labour cards and the national ID. The authority also announced it has begun incorporating an iris scan that could double the duration of ID cards for UAE nationals to 10 years.