The UK’s Identity Card scheme may have been scrapped and swept under the bureaucratic carpet. But the UAE scheme, initiated at a similar time, has just been completed. The end of June marked the final deadline for obtaining Emirates ID cards in Dubai, with earlier deadlines already passing in the other six emirates. Fines of 20 Dhs per day up to an accumulation of Dhs 1000 for those not yet registered ensured the financial incentive.
But is the golden card in my wallet yet? No. Only recently re-acquiring a UAE residency visa to replace my prior visa for under-18s, the bureaucracy has been a new experience. The system is such that in order to get an appointment at an identity centre, UAE residents first have to pre-register at a typing centre, a waiting room with a few chairs, where a guy behind the desk quite literally types up the necessary documents. This was the precursor to a baffling medical component of the visa process. On top of this, in 2010, reports circulated that some typing centres completing ID card paperwork were holding people’s passports, with warnings of potential identity theft.
With my ID card paperwork finally completed in May and all the fees paid, I was unable to attend the appointment given to me for June. Not to worry. Even then, I was informed, appointments were already being scheduled for October. Such is the backlog that late September is now the date when my fingerprints will be taken.
With a conservative estimate of the population at 7.2 million, it’s hardly surprising that the process, begun a few years ago, has taken so long. In 2010, 1.5 million people were reported to have registered. With the first deadlines initially set towards the end of that year, they were unlikely to be met. Since then, newspapers have continually carried reports of looming deadlines. Each time, there’s been a rush and long queues outside identity centres - followed by the announcement of an extension. This time, The National newspaper tweeted that the end of June really was the “final final deadline”.
Unlike the UK’s controversial scheme, there has not been any discernible commentary on the collecting of biometric data. A population register is being created at the same time to support ‘strategic planning’, according to the Emirates Identity Authority (EIDA). The benefits being touted are that ID cards would replace other official paperwork. Eventually, the plan is that labour permits, health cards and driving licenses will be integrated onto the ID card, with the cards necessary for road and traffic issues and paying utility bills. But there’s no sign of this happening in the near future.
People in the UAE have been vocal in their own way; through the letter pages of newpapers and on Twitter. With ID cards not useful at the moment, residents are wondering why they so urgently need them. Parents are particularly questioning this, objecting that children under 15 are required to register, although they can’t drive, register vehicles, or pay water and electricity bills.
Some think the cards might be useful for ‘security’. But many UAE residents are cynical about the cost first and foremost. With a standard 3-year visa, an ID card costs Dhs 370 - over 100$ US. This needs to be renewed, and paid for again, every time the visa expires, which also includes when you change jobs. Not only the monetary cost, but the cost in time — the length of the process, uncertainty, changing information and delays — has been a source of frustration. There were issues with delivery through the postal system, and on the day of the ‘final final’ deadline, EIDA centres turned out to be closed for the weekend.
The latest announcement is that every mobile phone SIM card with the duopoly telecom providers Etisalat and Du will have to be re-registered using new ID cards. Cost and timing are currently unknown. The deadline may have passed, but UAE residents certainly haven’t heard the last of ID cards.
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