First Minister Alex Salmond has accused the Home Office of “sabotage” after visas were denied for two Chinese teachers returning to work in Scotland through a partnership programme.
Mr Salmond, who is currently on a visit to China, has lodged a protest.
He said the move amounted to sabotage of Scottish government efforts to build cultural links.
The Home Office promised a review and said the situation was being treated seriously.
The teaching programme is run by the Confucius Institute backed by Strathclyde University and the Scottish government.
It involves teachers from China offering Scottish pupils the chance to acquire skills in Mandarin and Chinese culture.
Five teachers from Tian Jin municipality were due to return to Scotland for a second year, but two of them have been told their visas will not be renewed.
Mr Salmond has written to Home Secretary Theresa May voicing his shock and dismay and warned that the episode risks damaging Scotland’s relationship with China.
Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, the first minister said: “It is an absolutely extraordinary situation you couldn’t make it up. It is deeply offensive to the Chinese and it is a decision that needs to be reversed as soon as possible.
“This amounts to sabotage of a programme that everyone thinks absolutely fantastic and doing great work in Scotland.
“The importance of this is quite fundamental. Our argument is to have a successful economic relationship with China you must have it underpinned by a successful cultural relationship, that is the view of the Chinese, that is the view of the Scottish government.
“If you undermine one you undermine the other.”