Australian officials yesterday admitted that 300 foreign students were mistakenly locked up and deported following a paperwork bungle that resulted in 8,000 student visas being wrongly canceled.
The Department of Immigration asked its diplomatic posts around the world to tell the wronged students that they could resume their courses following the mistake, which is a damaging blow given Australia's goal of becoming Asia's education hub.
The federal court said that the department had been using incorrect paperwork from May 2001 to last month.
The ruling forced the government to reinstate the revoked visas of 700 foreign students in Australia and more than 7,000 who left the country after being told they could not complete their courses.
A departmental spokesman said hundreds of students had been placed in detention centers before being deported.
"Our records indicate that over the five years, some 300 people may have been impacted in this way," he told Australian Associated Press.
The spokesman said affected students may be able to seek compensation through the courts.
The immigration department said it had asked its overseas offices to inform students, education bodies and other relevant organizations of the federal court's decision.
The case arose after a student launched a legal challenge after his visa was canceled because he had not attended sufficient classes in his cookery course.
The court said the standard warning notice sent to the student was incorrectly worded. The letter told students to appear at a specific immigration office rather than informing them they could attend any branch.
Australia's schools and universities earn about US$5.8 billion a year from foreign students, representing the country's fourth-largest export earner, worth more than the traditional exports of wool and wheat combined.
The vast majority of the students come from Asia, with China the fastest growing market.