Thursday, December 29, 2011


This post will, I hope, serve some utilitarian purpose for any UAE expat resident who has not yet applied for his/her national ID card. Although I give a completely anecdotal account, I expect it will still help some to more easily navigate the process.

Before I start, here are a few links for official sites, which I should add were not entirely useful, seemingly not to include some quite relevant detail.
  1. First time registration info

  2. Typing center locations

    Comment: Lots of centers in "old" Dubai, but only one listed in the vicinity of "new" Dubai.

  3. Registration center locations

    Comment: Just a big, country-scale Google map; not at all comprehensive or helpful.
My Story

So, I went off to the single listed typing center in new Dubai. Perhaps there are others not listed on the website, which would not surprise me in the least.

Location: Easy enough to find, along the Al Sufouh Rd side of Knowledge Village at the Dubai Marina end. Look out for a sign for the Medical Fitness Center and the typing center is located in the same building at the On Time Office. Easy to find with parking in a lot opposite the building entrance.

Experience: Certainly particular days, dates and times will affect one's experience. I'm sure the closer it gets to any published deadline for registration, the harder the process will get.

In my case, the timing was mid-morning, end of week, end of month and end of year, but far away from any impending registration deadlines. Despite being the only listed center in new Dubai it was not at all busy--practically no lines and only limited wait-time during processing.

But there were a few surprises along with the routine procedures:
  1. In addition to the fees indicated on the website (Dhs 100 per year of visa validity and Dhs 30 for typing center fee) there is an additional Dhs 40 registration fee to the government. (Now, why isn't this mentioned on the official website!)

    On the other hand, there is no need to pay a Dhs 20 fee for courier delivery of the card once produced. This option/requirement (thankfully) no longer exists.

  2. There are application forms resting on the registration counter, easy enough to fill-in oneself, but no one or nothing alerts you to this, so you're likely to end up missing the opportunity to get this step out of the way in advance.

  3. For first time registration, you need provide nothing but your passport with visa, and the cash for payment. (No credit card payments accepted).

    You don't need any photos or photo copies of your documents. And it would appear that you also need not be present to present your passport; a proxy could do this for you.

    So, that's all you need--passport w/visa and cash.

  4. The wait... You then wait for your passport to get scanned and details to be logged by clerks into the system. Simple enough you may think, but I found my wait dragging on a bit.

    On confronting the registration clerk I am informed the wait is for the payment to get logged into the online registration system. So no passport scanning, no nothing until a seemingly elemental and routine network function takes place. (Go figure; this happens instantaneously when making payments at retail outlets.)

  5. Now, the real surprise. In due course (about 40 min) I get my passport back, a printed form and receipt, and an sms notification of my appointment at a registration center. Fine, I guess, but I'm not looking forward to having to compete the process more than a month off and at a distant Rashidiya location.

    Anyway, ready to head home, I am told to go upstairs and get my finger prints taken. Hmm, OK... I wasn't really expecting this step. Didn't see anything about this on the website. So, I head upstairs, get a number and wait for it to be called. Soon, I'm on into a little cubicle to get fingerprinted and photographed.

    That done, I ask the clerk, What next? What next, he shrugs. Wait to get an sms to collect your card.

    Huh? That's it? All done? What a pleasant surprise!


So, that's the process--my process, anyway--in a nutshell. And it really was in a nutshell. The whole process took only about an hour.

But wait, here was a registration center right in the same building as the typing center. Nothing about that on the website. And wait again, even though I get an sms announcing an appointment some six weeks off, it's all for naught when all I have to do is head upstairs to complete the process then and there.

So, why isn't any of this on the official website?
Go figure, and go get your Emirates ID if you haven't already done so.

(I should also add, there were people ahead of me in line at the typing center. When told it would take from 30 min to an hour to get their passports back, they opted to leave the center and return later to pick them up. So, why weren't they informed that they ought just as well stay and complete the process upstairs?)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


When did you first hear the expression "living wage" as a notion of the minimum amount a worker should get paid?

Minimum wage, as an expression and an important concept in labor, has probably been around for a long time. A living wage is fundamentally the same thing except for the added attention it brings to need for that wage to be sufficient to survive on.

In a word or two, Dubai desperately needs this! (All of the UAE and the Arabian Gulf countries, where you have millions of migrant/immigrant workers earning meager wages, need this.) Too many workers struggle and endure great hardship through their often long periods of employment.

My argument for a living wage is this:

Work is an all-consuming and fundamental determiner in the lives of most adults. It is rather inhumane that one would have to devote most of his/her waking hours to such an endeavor and not be able to at least survive on it.

A living-wage should be a given. Whatever one's job, if it is full-time, it should provide sufficient income to afford shelter, food, transport and other essentials like health care, clothing and a minimal amount of recreational and personal development opportunities.

Now, when discussing such things, defining the terms precisely often represents a stumbling block.

What exactly is full-time work and how does one define shelter and minimal standards for food, transport, health care, etc. These are not simple clarifications to make, yet there is no reason why workable definitions and standards cannot be set by competent authorities.

What is perhaps even more interesting and important is that definitions and standards would need to be relative to the situation on the ground. That is, the average standard of living in any given region and various demographic factors would need to be looked at so that minimum standards could be set to reflect these conditions.

So, how might a living wage work for Dubai?

Off the bat, a few ideas like the following could be considered for a fair living wage (calculated monthly):
    General Cost of Living

  1. housing/accommodation: the cost for 4 men or women to share a studio apartment, as a minimum standard, might average 500 dhs per person.
  2. meals: 500 dhs per individual, mostly home prepared.
  3. transportation: 270 dhs, which buys a monthly rail/bus pass with unlimited use.
  4. incidental health care: 100 dhs, for occasional doctor visits and over-the-counter medicines (health insurance should be a universal employer-provided benefit).
  5. clothing, recreation, educational expenses: 250 dhs, which could cover one's share of cable television or internet, basic clothing care and replacement and admission to a public park or library on a regular basis.
    Dubai (& UAE/Gulf) Extras

  1. savings/repatriation: 95% of the labor force in Dubai is expatriate or local-born expat and the vast majority of these work here with the expectation of providing in some way for themselves to return with or family back home. So, above and beyond their own living expenses, workers in the UAE should be guaranteed a slim margin above this, of say 200 dhs.
  2. pension scheme: most expatriate workers lose out on retirement schemes in their home countries for being overseas and don't qualify for any government schemes in the UAE. The government at present enforces a system of gratuity, which is extremely limited and the calculator is reset, so to speak, every time a worker changes employers. So, no amount of substantial funds can ever accumulate. 100 dhs could be added to the living wage to support this need.
--drum roll--

Recommended Living Wage for the Workers of Dubai:
1920 Dhs ($523)

One more key issue is that many employers prefer to provide for some of the workers' living expenses like housing, food and transport (to the worksite). They use this as an excuse to pay significantly lower wages. So a cleaner, for example, gets paid 500 dhs per month. Obviously it is a cost-savings for the employer but results in what I would call exploitation of the worker.

While an employer should have the right to provide for some of the workers' living expenses in lieu of payment it should be as follows:
  1. at the option of the employee to accept or decline, and
  2. if accepted, the associated payment should be reduced by, say, 60% rather than entirely withdrawn.
So, if a minimum housing component to one's wage is 500 dhs, then if an employee is provided accommodation he/she should still be entitled to 40% of the 500 dhs, or 200 dhs. What happens at present is that employers often provide sub-standard housing and meals to employees (at very low costs to themselves) and use this as an excuse to pay extremely low wages.

At the end of the day, the worker is not the property of the employer. The worker should have the fundamental right to receive his/her full wages and determine how he/she shall spend it. The worker should have a great amount of control over where he sleeps and what he eats. The transport portion of his/her wages should not be subject to reduction just because the employer provides transport to the worksite.

The living-wage, on the other hand, should be a minimum standard for the working individual only, and not a family-wage to support spouse or other dependents. That is, it would be sufficient for the bachelor, as it were, who usually comes to the UAE alone. It is the reality on-the-ground here that most workers (both male and female) come to the UAE alone to work. It would not be fair or reasonable to expect employers to provide support for expatriate workers' families to live in the UAE with them or to be comfortably supported back home--not as a basis of a minimum standard.

So, let's hear it for a living-wage for Dubai's workers!

This is an idea that I believe expatriates, non-citizen locals and citizen-locals could all support. It could also set a precedent, with Dubai at the forefront, for all Gulf countries.

See a comparison of salaries and wages table for Dubai. Very few of the jobs on the listing fall below my recommended living wage, however, what the table does not reveal are the percentage of workers in each job category. Probably the single highest category for number of workers in the UAE would be laborer.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


The man kissed the cross-dresser before discovering that his seducer was a man. After kicking the cross-dresser out, the man found he had been robbed and reported it to police. He was then charged with consensual sex and deported, while the thief was never caught.

The laws and law enforcement in the UAE has long been a big bone of contention with me. The above reference highlights the danger the expatriate community faces in in interacting with the justice system. The article in today's The National, UAE decency laws need reform, say judges, highlights a few of the problems associated with this.

One hard reality of the life of an expatriate in the UAE is that he or she can be deported and banned permanently from re-entering the country for even the most minor of offenses. Flip the bird as they say and say goodbye to the UAE.

So what!

Anyone looking at this picture from the outside might think it isn't worth being in a place where one is treated as so much the unwelcome guest. But this harsh facet of life in the UAE contrasts so sharply with another reality that makes the UAE the chosen place for work and residence for 90% of its population. The UAE is for the most part a welcoming international destination, where countless millions are offered visas to work and reside and they are for the most part left to live the way they like.

The catch, however, is that there is no ultimate legal protection of these privileges. As the article goes on to mention,
...couples who showed intimacy in public, regardless of how innocent, would face a mandatory sentence of deportation if convicted. Offences include adultery, consensual sex, inappropriate gestures and signs, kissing, touching, and intimate movements, according to another judge. Sentences range from a month in prison, in addition to deportation, to death.

Yes, that's what it says... death! It's on the books and these judges speak of things like mandatory sentences.

For most resident expatriates, the classic scenario is that you are involved in a traffic accident resulting in a minor injury. Whether at fault or not, you (the expatriate) are arrested and jailed for some period of time, passport confiscated and then deported.

Any evidence of alcohol in your bloodstream (there is no legal allowance, simply zero tolerance) and the jail time is extended, your insurance is deemed invalid and you become liable for all financial damages, even if there is no evidence that you were at fault.

Beyond this nightmare, which lurks in the back of any expatriate's mind, is the fact that the legal system is on the face of it extremely arbitrary. While there are laws that reference certain legal procedures, the reality it seems is that once one is taken up by the justice system all bets are off.

Will you have a chance to get legal consul, will any of the proceedings which go on be translated into your spoken language if not Arabic, will you in fact be released if and when a release date is determined...? It is all anyone's guess and everyone's worst nightmare.

On the flip side of it all, however, is that the UAE can be so scary a place from a justice system point of view that it keeps a lot of people scared straight about committing any crimes. The UAE is a relatively safe, crime-free environment as a result. But then, what is really criminal, when all is said and done, is that the system itself seems less to uphold justice than to subvert it.

Sunday, January 09, 2011


My first post on this topic over two years ago, HIV (11-Nov-2008), has gotten a lot of attention. It's a hush-hush topic, after all, and not only in the UAE.

It reflects the immaturity that still exists in many places around the globe. It reflects certain cultural sensitivities, no doubt. Even in a more mature intellectual environment, like that of the US, one has to go around saying things like the N word. How funny and odd that must seem to people not immeshed in that culture.

The problem in the UAE is that HIV cannot even be talked about much less its sufferers being treated humanely. In my 10 plus years in the country I have never heard any office chatter on the topic. It isn't featured in the media and it isn't talked about among groups of casual friends, colleagues or acquaintances. It is the H word here.

Of course, it isn't the only thing that isn't talked about. This is a place where the Internet is heavily censored. Untouchable topics include things related to sexuality, religion, government and some aspects of economy and culture. This, of course, creates an environment where intellectual development is stymied.

Father Knows Best

Now some defend this sort of intellectual subversion--it protects children and the local culture. And the truth is that, even in so-called free and liberal societies, there are things one might say that make many people uncomfortable and can even get one into trouble with the enforces of the law.

Still, SEX, RELIGION, GOVERNMENT, ECONOMY, CULTURE--that is quite a big chunk of topics to take off the table. My mental faculties have certainly been dulled as a result. When there are so many things that one is not allowed to talk about, one eventually stops thinking about them. You eventually stop really thinking at all. That, I suppose, is exactly what the powers at be want--and perhaps many others in the society at large.

And so THEY HAVE WON this fight here in the UAE. We (long term expats like myself) survive and thrive in the UAE, only by turning off a part of our consciousness.

Papa Don't Preach

Now, Abu Dhabi wants to bring culture to the UAE ala the Louvre, the Guggenheim and all things great being planned for Saadiyat Island. But what culture is that really? One hardly has the freedom of thought in this land. A richer culture might emerge, if only the UAE would refrain from deporting or arresting individuals who dare to express views on the many untouchable topics.

HIV--the topic which is the point of this post, but I digress.

I do not think the situation for HIV sufferers... OK sufferers is a completely wrong word choice. (People with HIV--HIV positive status--don't suffer. They live their lives in complete normality if not harassed by government or others in society.) People in the UAE who have become infected with the virus, for whatever reason, still fare poorly--especially those who are non-nationals.

There is no confidential testing. One should take a flight, not only out of the country but completely out of the region, to get tested in order to avoid risk of arrest and/or deportation, or ostracism if one is a UAE national.

Every year that World AIDS Day rolls around we get a few articles in the newspapers addressing the topic with a few hopeful words about how the government is starting treatment or looking to protect the rights of HIV infected individuals. BUT WAIT, this only applies to the population of UAE nationals. It is still the dark ages or the Spanish Inquisition for anyone so identified among the expatriate population, which by some estimates makes up 90% of the UAE resident population.

So, no change in the HIV/AIDS situation here in the UAE for expatriates. No change, either, is likely to come, as long as one dare not even talk about the topic within any public setting.

The Bigger Picture

All things considered, what makes the UAE a livable environment and a place where many people, both local and expatriate, can survive well and even thrive are
  1. a little bit of luck--luck not to be the one to get arrested at the airport for having a grain of narcotic dust on the sole of one's shoe, or a leftover poppy seed from a bun eaten at a transit airport's business lounge--and luck not to contract the HIV virus, whether through a very human error in judgement or circumstances completely beyond ones control, and

  2. a, not only benevolent, but genuinely modern and forward-thinking rulership in the person of those sheikhs and families who rule the UAE.
You see, although it is those same powers that be who have implemented the zero tolerance edicts against alcohol, drugs and HIV (and these things are not ALL vices), they also do a pretty good job of creating a society where there is some distribution of wealth and general peace and tranquility. They cannot be faulted for that.

My one suggestion is to consider that the UAE is still a young nation, which has at least done a great job of providing the basics and spurring incredible economic development. I say, give it time, and the social development will follow. Maybe they've got it backwards in bringing over the Louvre and Guggenheim long before there is any true freedom of expression. But perhaps these things will hasten an eventual social, political and religious maturity.

While being diagnosed HIV positive is still a great tragedy for any individual in the UAE--and not because of the condition itself, but because of the inhumane treatment by the government--it is one of those risks in life that some people choose to live with. It is one of those risks that I have chosen to live with and, at the end of the day, I still choose the UAE, I still choose to live in and call Dubai home.

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