They came to Australia on student visas but stayed on illegally and allegedly became part of a criminal syndicate to prop up their lives abroad.
Now three Chinese nationals are facing long jail terms after a major police sting.
Enhua Huang, 24, Reng Chen, 22, and Zhiq Lin, 22, were among seven people arrested on Tuesday after police found 15kg of pseudoephedrine in Auburn in Sydney’s west.
The drug haul is part of almost 60kg of the drug precursor police and customs have found across Sydney in the past month.
Police allege the three men had come into the country on international student visas but, at the time of their arrest, were in Australia illegally.
A fourth man, 23-year-old Hai Hui He – an Australian citizen – was also arrested.
All four were charged with large commercial drug supply while another woman, also a Chinese national, was taken to Villawood detention centre.
Two men were released pending further inquiries.
According to court papers, police allege Chen and He, a father of two from Auburn, were both part of a criminal network and relied on drug supply to support their lifestyle.
All four men charged were refused bail in Burwood Local Court on Thursday.
Detective Superintendent Scott Cook said police had seen a pattern where people who came to Australia on student visas became caught up in a gangster lifestyle.
“They are not necessarily students,” the Organised Crime Squad commander told reporters.
“A lot of them get caught up in criminality and a lot of them are used by established criminal networks to enter the gangster lifestyle.
“That may not be the case for these individuals but that is the pattern we have seen.”
On top of the pseudoephedrine haul, police seized two kilograms of ice, $870,000 worth of heroin and an SKS assault rifle from the criminal syndicate.
NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione had a stern warning for criminals.
“If you think it has been tough to do your business until now, you ain’t seen nothing yet,” he said.
Chen and He will appear in Burwood Local Court on July 7.
Huang and Lin will appear in the same court on July 17.