Twenty years after independence the labour market of western Kazakhstan is strongly oriented towards the resource-extraction industry. The oil sector offers job opportunities not only in mining and exploration but also in connected services such as transport, security and food supply, and maintenance services. Based on a year of ethnographic fieldwork in the region, I argue that the resource-extraction industry provides a blessing for the working population in terms of relatively high salaries; however, it represents a curse in terms of labour conditions. This article highlights, through the example of Aktobe province, workers’ attitudes towards and their agency within the oil sector that influences migration choices. The research suggests that money earned in the oil sector can work as a catalyst for migration and urbanization.

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