Residency and work visa applicants wait for their turn at the Satwa medical fitness centre for their medical tests. Image Credit: Francois Nel/Gulf News

Dubai: Sunil, a Nepalese expatriate, arrived at the Satwa medical fitness centre at 6am on a working day and managed to submit his papers after four long hours.

"I was lucky today," he said. A day earlier he had come here at 7am and, after standing in line for 10 minutes, the security guard told him there were no more tokens and asked him to come back the next day.

All foreign workers coming to the UAE for work have to undergo medical fitness tests to be eligible to reside in the country. The applicants are tested for HIV/Aids, syphilis, hepatitis B and TB.

The Dubai Municipality medical fitness centre in Deira was closed recently so as not to duplicate the work of the Dubai Health Authority (DHA). The thousands of people who used to go there every day now go to other centres.

Sherill, a Filipina, had submitted her papers at the window and the man at the counter told her to come the next day. "I can't take off every day to come here," said the expatriate who lives in a different area of Dubai. "The man was rude to me," she alleged.

The medical fitness centre at Satwa is one of the 14 managed by the DHA which is trying to cope with the rush of people by opening more centres. The last centres opened were at Knowledge Village and Jebel Ali.

A senior DHA official earlier told journalists the centres spread across the emirate are capable of handling 4,000 applications per day. Five centres are exclusively for housemaids, she had said.

Herded into corner

But the Satwa centre is swamped with expatriates every day. Inside, it was milling with people as a voice periodically shouted a name. At 9.30am a video screen over the counter showed that number 365 was being served. Outside, a group of Indian workers was being herded by a manager into a corner. He was handing back their passports with the medical test papers.

"It's a mess," said Rabih, a Lebanese expat who was patiently standing in a long queue leading out of the main door. He, too, could not complete the procedure the same day. "This is my second day here," he said.

Kate, a British expat, said she was approached by a "dodgy" looking person, muttering "quick medical" under his breath. She quickly moved away without finding out what he wanted. Other expats claimed there are people who will get your papers processed faster, but at a price.

Sherill said she can pay more and get the test done faster legally. "But my company will only reimburse me Dh250, plus Dh40 for the typing." There is a special fee of Dh500 to get the test done immediately.

Have you gone for a medical fitness test recently? What are the problems that you faced?