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The Curse Of The FNU

September 17, 2007 388 comments

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
–From Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

I recently relocated from Tavant’s Bangalore office to the US one. I work in the San Francisco Bay Area on an H-1B visa. One of the first pieces of paperwork one needs to get done here in the US is to get a Social Security Number (SSN). My application for an SSN was rejected twice before it was eventually accepted – this post describes how I got it fixed.

On my Indian passport my name is listed as:

Given Name : Binil David Thomas
Surname :

Yes, the geniuses at Cochin passport office left the surname field blank! From the US Consulate, Chennai website (emphasis mine):

To process your visa cases efficiently, we recommend your surname and the given name written separately on the first page (the biographic data page) of your passport.

Example:
Surname (last name): Wesley
Given name (first name): John Edward

Once your visa is approved, the immigrant and the nonimmigrant visas will be printed as your name appears in your passport. If you do not have a surname listed separately, your entire name will be printed on the surname field of the visa. Your first name will be printed as “FNU” (first name unknown), per U.S. visa regulations.

By having “FNU” listed as your given name on your visa, you may have difficulty obtaining a driver’s license and social security card in the United States.

I did not notice this website before I went to get my visa stamped on my passport. Thus my name on the passport was listed as:

First Name : FNU
Last Name : Binil David Thomas

I am assuming that many databases might have the LASTNAME as a NON-NULL column, hence this weird formation “FNU BINIL DAVID THOMAS”. When I entered USA, being the dutiful gentleman that I am, I wrote my name on my I-94 exactly as it was in my visa.

My first application to get an SSN was rejected on the basis that the name on my passport (BINIL DAVID THOMAS) and the name on my I94 (FNU BINIL DAVID THOMAS) do not match up. I was asked to get an observation added by Indian authorities to my passport listing my name correctly. I went to San Francisco consulate, filled out the miscellaneous form (pdf), paid $10, and got a note added on my passport. The process was very straightforward and I am told (see map_boiler’s post at 07-25-2007, 11:08 AM) that there are mail-in procedures too. Here is the net result (click to enlarge):

Passport annotation

Armed with this note on my passport, I applied for an SSN again. This time the officer was willing to accept my application, but when she checked my immigration records my name there was listed as:

First Name: Olena
Last Name : Binil David Thomas

‘Olena’ is definitely not my name and nobody in my family is named so. 🙂 This I think was a genuine clerical or software error!

To get it corrected, I contacted the US Citizenship & Immigration Services(USCIS) office on the phone. They instructed me to take an appointment with USCIS San Francisco office and speak to an immigration officer. I explained my case to an immigration officer. She checked my petition papers and recommended my case to a Customs & Border Protection CBP officer located in the same building. The CBP officer issued me a new I-94 with my name as:

First Name: Binil David
Last Name : Thomas

Corrected I-94

So, now both my passport and my I-94 had the same name and in the right form! I applied for SSN again with the corrected I-94 with Binil as my first name, David as my middle name and Thomas as my surname – and this time my application was accepted. 🙂

Update Sep 13 2012: This post was written 5 years ago. I suspect that most of the information in the post is outdated. The comments still have useful information. I no longer keep track of the FNU issue, so I am disabling further comments on this post. Thanks for reading!

Categories: tavant, usa