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First Name Unknown: FNU on Visas and Other Documents

In Western culture, we’re accustomed to having a first name (given name) and a last name (surname or family name). In many cases, individuals may also have a middle name. However, it is customary to have only one name in several other parts of the world. This has created a problem for U.S. immigration officials. These American visa applicants end up with the name FNU for “first name unknown.” It can take away immigrants’ dignity and create identification problems.

FNU name tag, short for "first name unknown"

Why First Name is Unknown

Undoubtedly, thousands of immigrants in the United States named FNU have this problem. They come from places like Afghanistan, Iraq and India. In many cases, they have assisted the U.S. military. Their native cultures don’t differentiate between a first name and last name. They have a singular name. Depending on the culture, the name may include components of family lineage, tribe and other attributes.

When preparing a U.S. visa application, the individual may enter only one name. Unknowingly, this starts the problem. However, countries like Afghanistan previously did not require two names on passports. This contributed to the problem. Afghanistan has since begun requiring a first name and last name.

As a result, a family that immigrates together could end up with the same first name unknown (FNU) and different variations of a last name. Then, this problem is complicated further when individuals apply for Social Security, driver’s licenses and other documents.

RECOMMENDED: Family-Based Immigration in the United States

Visa with FNU

Generally, this is not a mistake. If your passport does not include a surname (last name) or does not include a given name (first name), the U.S. Department of State will place the name in the surname location. Without a given name, the first name is unknown or “FNU.”

Fixing FNU on Identification Documents

Whenever possible, this problem should be identified and rectified before preparing a U.S. visa application. Once adjudicated in the American immigration system, it becomes a long-term endeavor.

Unfortunately, if you have already begun the immigration process, it is easiest to resolve the FNU name after becoming a permanent resident (green card holder). Once established as a permanent resident, you may legally change your name with a county office. Each county is different and will have different fees. Contact the county offices for your area for the specific procedure. Once you name is changed, you may replace your green card, update your foreign passport and replace your driver’s license.

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