Dubai: As more and more government services are moving online, hundreds of typing centres are struggling to survive in Dubai, and surely in other emirates too.
The latest service to be moved away from typing centres is residence visa applications — from November 1.
This might sound the death knell of 600-odd typing centres in Dubai.
In May this year, the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA) launched the first of its 50 proposed Aamer Business Centres that would operate as one-stop shops for all residency-related services, helping people apply for and process their visas, without having to either visit the typing centres or the GDRFA offices.
From November 1
The GDRFA has also announced that from November 1, the typing centres will no longer be able to process visa applications, which has been their main area of service for several decades.
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Already stripped of their role as the main facilitators of government services like applying for labour permits, Emirates ID card and medical fitness tests, the smaller typing centres are now surviving on odd jobs.
Ilyas Ahmad has been in the typing business for 17 years and like many of his competitors, he works out of a small 50-square-foot office in Hor Al Anz East, which was once a major hub for typing services.
Once thriving due to their proximity to the city’s Old Labour Office, the 50-odd typing centres in Hor Al Anz, including the one owned by Ahmad, are now clueless about their future.
“Slowly, everything is being taken away from us and we are left with no choice. Right now, I am only processing family visa applications because we are not allowed to do the employment visa applications or the Emirates ID and medical fitness applications,” said Ahmad.
The 45-year-old Indian expat once had five typists working for him, but due to thinning demand for their work, he was forced to lay off all his staff one by one.
“Now, I am somehow managing by accepting applications from my regular customers who continue to approach me, which I then take to the bigger centres and get them processed for a small commission," said Ahmad.
"I don’t know how long I will survive like this. I haven’t decided on what to do next. I just hope there will still be something for the likes of me in the system.”
Egyptian expat, Mohammad, who only gave his first name, has been running his small typing business for the last two decades, but he is also now surviving doing a mandoob’s (PRO) job.
“I have been in this business since the time of manual applications when there were no computers and we had to type out every application on paper," said Mohammad.
"We have been part of the system playing a key role and providing an important service for so long and now we feel we are being pushed out to accommodate bigger businesses,” added Mohammad, who is now considering a change in profession.
In Hor Al Anz East, typing businesses continued to flourish even after the labour office moved to a new location and the application services were taken away from the typing centres and handed over to Tas-heel.
They continued to survive even after the Emirates ID and, more recently, medical fitness test applications were also moved away to bigger centres. However, taking the visa application services away, they feel, is the final proverbial nail in their coffin.
Cubicle centres not allowed
According to one of the government requirements, to be eligible to process Emirates ID and medical fitness applications, the typing centres need to be bigger than 1,500 square feet in size — which means only a handful qualify.
In Hor Al Anz East, there are only two such centres currently processing Emirates ID and medical fitness applications. The owner of one of these centres is also not sure until when he could do this.
“You never know what will happen next, things keep changing here very frequently. Right now, we are processing Emirates ID, medical as well as visa applications," said Abdul Kareem, who opened a bigger office only last year to be eligible to process medical and Emirates ID applications.
"From November 1, we won’t be able to process the visa applications, which will mean loosing out on a major source of revenue,” said Abdul Kareem.
Operating with more typists, Kareem is now wondering whether he will be able to generate enough revenue to maintain his sprawling centre without the service fees accrued through visa applications.
While Kareem and some of the bigger centres might survive for sometime more, many others from his tribe of typists will soon be out of work.