Long queues stretched around government offices in the Northern Emirates yesterday as expatriates scrambled to comply with the new requirement for a national identification card.
After a lukewarm response to repeated attempts to persuade residents to register for the cards, the Emirates Identity Authority announced a fortnight ago that it would take a tougher approach.
From this week, anyone without the cards will be denied driving licence and vehicle registration services in RAK, Ajman, Fujairah and Umm al Qaiwain.
Most Emiratis already have the cards, which are not yet required to access services in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.
But others have been slow in applying. Around 400,000 expatriate professionals are thought to have missed a February deadline to have the cards.
However, with the threat of services being withdrawn, the story yesterday was different.
A crowd gathered even before the RAK Identity Authority office opened at 7.30am, as many who missed out last week were determined not be turned away again.
Within minutes of the doors being unlocked, every seat in the men’s section of the registration centre was taken.
Dozens of men stood shuffling with their papers, some waiting hours to be interviewed, photographed and fingerprinted.
“We came yesterday at 8.30 and it was so full,” said Naveen Sreeram, a 35-year-old purchasing executive at RAK Ceramics, as he waited in the family section with his wife and year-old daughter.
“We came here at 7.30 today when it opened. Because of our family, we got first preference to be helped and now we’ve almost finished.”
Even with first preference, it took more than three hours.
Many expatriates put off registration for months, but now that the card is needed for services, they are facing the inevitable.
“Every day more and more people come here from all the emirates,” said Esmaeel Hashem, the registration centre supervisor.
“A lot of people come from Dubai and Sharjah, but today most are from RAK.
“With appointments and walk-ins, we normally have around 50 a day. Today, I think it’s around 300. Last week was the same.”
His estimate did not include groups of up to 50 brought in by companies who wanted to ensure their employees met the deadline.
Last month, the Identity Authority announced it would merge labour cards, residency permits and driving licences within the national ID card from next July.
But many still consider the ID card an unnecessary inconvenience.
“We had to come today just to avoid any penalties,” said Najeeb Hamayun, 25, a Pakistani payroll officer who came with about 30 colleagues from his company. “But we still don’t know what the benefit of this card is.”
As he was given his number and shuffled off to another room, he sighed. “Looking at this situation, maybe we will be here until the evening,” he said.
Meanwhile, the marble halls of the Traffic and Licensing Department were filled with those hoping to beat the deadline. Officers gave many a one-day grace period, but from today there will be no exceptions, they said.
In a typical day, the department registers between 700 to 800 licences.
In its first three hours of business yesterday, it had already registered 510 and the count was rising by the minute.
Within five hours, the department had processed more than 1,000 applications.
“So many people came here last week,” said Col Hassan Beraiki. “Normally people start coming in slowly, around 10 in the morning, but today they are rushing in. At 12.30pm we will stop taking new licences without ID cards.
“We tell everyone this is a necessity. The Emiratis all have it and from tomorrow, any company that wants to do anything must make sure their employees have their cards.”
Residents can renew residency visas without an ID card, but officials have said the registration deadline will not be extended a second time.
All expatriate professionals over the age of 15 are required to get an ID card by the end of 2010 for access to government services.