The issues of oralmans’ integration into modern Kazakhstani society

After the dissolution of USSR, Kazakhstan started a huge repatriate program aimed at the attraction of Kazakh people who live abroad to come to their native land. This article analyses the main reasons why oralmans decide to left their homes and go to Kazakhstan. Also it observes the whole range of governmental action aimed to support newcomers before and after their move to Kazakh territory. The major part of author’s research devoted to analysis of integration issues with which oralmans have to cope with after they moved to Kazakhstan. Those issues are not only sociological, economical and cultural but also a problem of xenophobia towards them from citizens of Kazakhstan. This work represents the result of long-term researches of Kazakhstani and western scientists, who has made numerous interviews and surveys with oralmans and Kazakhstani citizens in order to find out their perception towards current situation with ethnic migration in the country. Author gives an analysis and evaluation to these events and evaluates the role of Kazakhstani government. 

After obtaining its independence in 1991, Kazakhstan started grandiose policy of returning ethnic Kazakhs back to their native land. This was caused by various factors such as demographic crisis which started just after independence and paucity of Kazakhs in the country (just 40.1% out of the whole population) [1]. This group of repatriates was labeled by government as Oralmans, which translates from Kazakh as “returnees”.

Oralmans as it was defined by Kazakhstani government are people of Kazakh nationality that live outside of the Republic as the citizens of other countries or absolutely stateless at the moment of obtaining by Kazakhstan its independence [2]. They have a right to arrive at Kazakhstan for the purpose of permanent residence under the article 1 of Population migration Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan № 204 dated 13th December, 1997.

By the time of 10th anniversary of independence Kazakhstan has accepted about 60 000 returnee-families. By now the total number of oralmans raised to 952 882 people or 259 159 families [3]. All these people came generally from countries located close to Kazakhstan, such as China, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, etc. It is estimated that roughly five million ethnic Kazakhs live outside Kazakhstan, in more than 40 countries. Of this figure, it is estimated that roughly 1.5 million Kazakhs are in Uzbekistan, 1.5 million in China, 1 million in Russia, 100,000 in Turkmenistan, 80,000 in Mongolia and 45,000 in Kyrgyzstan [4]. Other countries with significant Kazakh diaspora populations are Turkey, Afghanistan and Iran. Kazakhs have also settled in other countries in Western Europe, Asia and North and South America. The largest percentage of ethnic Kazakhs abroad are descendants of those who were forced out of the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s or who fled political turmoil, repression, forced collectivization, and hunger crises that effected a large segment of the Kazakh population. It is estimated that some 200,000 Kazakhs left the Soviet Union, primarily to China, Mongolia, India, Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey, whereas the number of Kazakhs in neighboring Soviet republics increased by 2.5 times from 1926 to 1939, totaling over 794,000 persons [2, p.8]. The immigration of ethnic Kazakhs to their native homeland was actively supported by the government even before Kazakhstan became an independent country. On 18 November 1991, a month before country gained independence, Kazakhstan passed the Resolution On the Procedures and Conditions of the Relocation to Kazakh SSR for Persons of Kazakh Ethnicity from Other Republics and Abroad Willing to Work in Rural Areas aimed not only to regulate the immigration of Kazakhs to Kazakhstan, but also to develop the Kazakh aul (village) and agricultural industry complex, which was then facing a deep crisis.

During its 22 years long independence, Kazakhstan has had changed severely their immigration policy towards oralmans. In first 10-15 years it was a pure repatriation program aimed to increase the total number of Kazakhs and attract more qualified migrants. By 2008-2009 it became obvious that government’s plan had several obvious weaknesses, like, for example, oralmans were not as qualified as government expected. After arriving to Kazakhstan oralmans were joining the army of unemployed citizens. Moreover, country urgently needed more qualified workers in different industries, while majority of oralmans did not even have basic school education.

The Migration Law of the republic of Kazakhstan was firstly introduced in 1997 but due to several malfunctions was cancelled. On 2011 government accepted new version of Migration Law and by this time it had gone through several changes and adjustments. The section concerning the procedures of returning of oralmans was also firstly introduced in 2011 edition. Thus, for example, this law has given oralmans instruction of how to obtain the official status of oralman, how many people and families can enter Kazakhstan according to annual quota and the list of benefits they can actually claim for [5].

Starting from 2013 oralmaтs were giver the equivalent rights as other migrant with exceptions for some benefits. Thus, they had to register as oralman in 5 days after crossing the Kazakhstani border and provide competent authorities the following documents: the official demand letter (zayavlenie), biography, national ID and IDs of family members, certificate of residence and certificate of ownership, if any. After obtaining the status of oralman the applicant receives the equivalent right as usual working immigrants. They have to provide the competent authorities with full package of documents concerning themselves and their family-members, under go an annual medical examination, receive vaccination and follow the instructions of the health authorities. Also they have to register in Center of adaptation and integration of oralmans and, if necessary, stay there for additional three days, in order to manage and organize all documents.

After five years of living and working in the country oralmans have a full right to claim the Kazakhstani citizenship.

But in contrast to usual working immigrants oralmans have an access to a whole range of different benefits.

Such as:

  • Help in employment (access to “Roadmap -2020” program), receiving of professional education and training;
  • Help in learning of Kazakh and Russian languages;
  • Exemption from military service;
  • Access for educational scholarships in Kazakhs schools and universities;
  • Access to social benefits, like pensions and allowances;
  • Compensations to family member of victims of repressions;
  • Exemption from consular fees when applying for Kazakhstani visa;
  • Access to free of charge medical assistance;
  • Targeted social assistance;
  • Allocation of funding for purchase of housing
  • And

It worth to mention that the payment amount varies every year and determined by government. Thus, there are three types of financial aid to oralmans:

  • Lump-sum grant – 15 MCI (Minimum Calculated Index) to a house holder and 10 MCI to each family member
  • Reimbursement of transportation expenses – 10 MCI to each family
  • Funds for the purchase of property – 100 MCI to each family

The size of MCI changed every year, consequently the same do the size of allowances. The table below shown the evolution of MCI and financial aid for oralmans for the last five years represented in tenge. 








1 MCI in tenge

1 413

1 512

1 618

1 731

1 852

1 982

Lump-sum grant (householder) – 15 MCI







Lump-sum grant (family members) – 10 MCI







Reimbursement of transportation expenses – 10 MCI / family member







Funds for the purchase of property – 100 MCI / family member







Taking into consideration that the price of 1m2 of real estate in Kazakhstan is 225 000 tenge the size of governmental allowances are more than low, because oralmans cannot even afford to buy a 1m2of estate.

This causes another wave of problems, like unemployment. Nowadays in Kazakhstan it is obligatory to have a permanent residency in order to et a job. But if person doesn’t have a place to live, he cannot have a job, thus, he does not have money to buy even a small apartment. This is a process that reminds of a vicious circle [6].

According to Article 1 of the law, ethnic Kazakhs were given the right to return to their “historic homeland”. In order to regulate the expected large flow of oralmans, the law also provided for the establishment of a special immigration quota and the creation of a dedicated agency to deal with the issue of ethnic immigration. For economic and historic reasons, the return of ethnic Kazakhs aims to preserve the national identity of the country and promote internal stability. During the Soviet period, many Kazakh customs declined; particularly usage of the Kazakh language, which was reduced not only in formal but also in informal settings. Because of this the Kazakh language and many elements of Kazakh culture were in danger of dying out. Thus the return of Kazakh oralmans is one of the major elements of government migration policies that aims to preserve and develop Kazakh culture.

But when arriving to Kazakhstan oralmans face a whole range of issues. One of the most important problems connected with migration problems of oralmans is the issue of their social-economical adaptation in the areas of settlement. The reason to that lays in the traditional Kazakh culture, which presumes that availability of higher education will be a guarantee of high social status and will enhance a possibility to find a highly paid job. Oralmans are also stick to this idea but in comparison to Kazakhstani citizens, they experience with lots of problems. And to resolve them it is necessary not only intervention of the government but also the mindset of oralmans.

As a major motivation to migrate to Kazakhstan oralmans usually indicate that Kazakhstan provides them with favorable environment to up bring their children. But before to get to that “favorable environment” oralmans deal with a such issue like: differences in education systems in their home country and Kazakhstan, peculiarities of culture, absence of some kind of legal status of oralmans, culture shock, generation conflicts, etc [7].

Still the major danger that oralmans have to cope with is a growing xenophobia towards their presence and desire to start a new life in Kazakhstan. In 1991 the Kazakhstan continued a huge policy of kazakhification which began during Perestroika. What Marlene Laruelle write about this: “One of the aims of this process was attraction of Kazakhs who live abroad. But this state-run process of the ethnic Kazakhstanization of Kazakhstan has come up against several social problems for Oralmans: high level unemployment, difficulties in schooling children, a lack of integration mechanisms, a lack of familiarity with Soviet cultural codes, and poor knowledge of Russian language. The level of xenophobia towards Oralmans among the Kazakh/Kazakhstani population, which the authorities prefer to conceal from the public, indicates the difficulties they are encountering in trying to strengthen artificially the Kazakhness of Kazakhstan” [8].

In 2013 Baurzhan Bokayev, fellow of Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University, held a quantitative research and in-depth interviews in order to define attitude of Kazakhstani citizen towards Oralmans and Oralmans’ towards Kazakhs. He interviewed repatriates from Mongolia, Uzbekistan, China, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Russia. Another part of his research was dedicated to attitude of Kazakhs to oralmans. (see Diagram 1) [9].

Diagram 1

The results have shown that in general Kazakhstan citizens are not against coming of ethnic migrants to their country. Their attitude fluctuates from “Indifferent” to “Good”. And very few of them expressed the negative attitude. But during the in-depth interview it was revealed that even if local population do not have negative feeling for newcomers they still cannot accept them as equal Kazakhstan citizens. There are always will be the “outsider/insider” difference in terms of language, culture, and society. A lot of respondents have shared that in fact they have never contacted with any representative of oralmans’ culture but still they do have some kind of a suspicious attitude to them. This means that in many ways the picture of a “bad and uneducated oralman” was built by mass media.

In many ways people consider oralmans as a closed community, which does not permit anyone “out of the circle” to come into their lives. And even if some of local citizens would like to understand their lifestyle and make friends with them, this will not always work until all the biases will be blurred out.

As it was mentioned before because of careless in some ways actions of mass media, the public only receives the image of oralmans that do not represent anything dignified. Thus among the locals the image of typical dependent starts to construct. Unfortunately this bias penetrates even in police departments who are not willing to defend oralmans. But in fact not all oralmans are “bad”, lots of them work as professors at universities, governmental workers, sportsmen and other [10].

Another reason of people’s disaffection is caused by the fact that oralmans are socially adverse category of population. This is one of the most “painful’ issues both to locals and government because no one can control properly the movement of oralmans within the country. Thus, when they arrive at one place, they receive from government a single-paid financial support and then move to another city or village and receive there this support once again.

The last but not the least reason of locals’ cordial dislike in oralmans is caused by the danger to the national security. Most of the newcomers come from those regions of China and Uzbekistan that are well known for a high terroristic activity. There might be a real threat that some of oralmans are supporters of radical views. Local citizens are concerned that if Kazakhstan will open it borders to all types of immigrants, them the migration crisis, similar to European will eventually overwhelm Kazakhstan.

Even though the number of oralmans coming to Kazakhstan is growing, the attitude to them from citizens of Kazakhstan gets even worse. As the research has shown a big role in this “disaffection” has played the mass media which is very “anti-oralman”. But in fact, looking at the real support from government we can see that oralmans are actually living in a state of poverty and if there are some criminal affairs that are connected to them, this is all because they do not have another choice. The biases that citizens have made up became the real issue in integration of oralmans to Kazakhstani society and to change that citizens have to start from themselves.



  1. Denier A.C. Kazakhstan’s Kin State Diaspora: Settlement Planning and the Oralman Dilemma. – Glasgow: University of Glasgow,
  2. Status of oralmans in Kazakhstan: review by – 2014 /[Electronic resource] - Status of oralmans in Kazakhstan: review by UNDP - URL:
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  5. Yessenkulova R. – More than 170 000 of oralman have arrive to Kazakhstan during the years of independence (Более 170 тысяч оралманов прибыли в Алматинскую область за годы независимости Казахстана) – 2015 / [Electronic Resource] Tengrinews.KZ URL: oblast-godyi-270144/
  6. Repatriate in Kazakhstan: help, privileges and adaptation - 2015/[Electronic resource] – KZ – URL: http://egov. kz/wps/portal/Content?contentPath=/egovcontent/citizen_migration/citizenship_of_rk/article/oralman_rk&lang=ru
  7. Kassymova The ways of adaptation of young oralmans to modern educational system of Kazakhstan (Выравнивание возможностей: пути адаптации молодого поколения оралманов к современной образовательной системе Казахстана) – 2012 / [Electronic resource] – Article.KZ – URL:
  8. Laruelle The three discursive paradigms of state identity in Kazakhstan – 2015 / [Electronic resource] – Nationalism and identity construction in Central Asia – URL: dq=xenophobia+towards+oralmans&source=bl&ots=0hRdIgPIno&sig=FbTBzrOEH3mPl7qKFJuZEJCR-4c&hl=kk&sa= X&ved=0ahUKEwijx6TKqtDJAhWFqXIKHdHfC8YQ6AEIGTAA#v=onepage&q=xenophobia%20towards%20oralmans&f =false
  9. Bokayev , Language, Ethnic Identity, and Adaptation of Ethnic Migrants in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan – 2013 /
  10. Akkuly S.-H. The xenophobia in Kazakhstan hampers the arrival of ethnic migrants from the abroad – 2010 / [Electronic resource] – Radio Azattyq – URL: html
Year: 2016
City: Almaty