The best and brightest overseas workers are being kept out of the UK by David Cameron's goal of cutting immigration to the "the tens of thousands", an influential group has found.
The report, by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, found British businesses had less access to the global talent pool because of the government's anti-immigration policies.
"The net migration target, which was not government policy, has clearly had a damaging impact on UK plc by reducing the talent pool available to companies based here," business secretary Vince Cable said.
"The harder we make it for international companies to employ the very best executives, the harder it is to sell the UK as a place to do business and foster employment opportunities."
The study suggests business have been forced to look among EU workers to make up for the restrictions on hiring international specialists.
Net migration stands at 212,000 – more than double the level Cameron said he wanted to get it down to in an off-the-cuff comment in 2010.
Since 2011, there has been a 39% drop in hires from outside Europe, but this has been more than made up for by a 53% increase in new arrivals from the EU.
That may be a result of unemployment on the continent as a result of the Eurozone crisis or could reflect businesses looking closer to home for jobs they would have filled with international workers.
The report casts doubt on the government's insistence that it can cut down on immigration without damaging business or economic performance.
The number of highly-skilled migrants who had been in the UK less than three years fell from 270,000 to 242,000 between 2011 and 2013
"I think it should cause real soul-searching in the Home Office because [their] intransigence on this issue is damaging the UK economy," Simon Walker, director-general of the Institute of Directors, said.
"They see their role to keep people out rather than to serve the broad economic needs of the UK as a whole."
The coalition's efforts to clamp down on immigration have also been criticised for damaging the higher education sector, with figures from the industry saying government policy is robbing the UK of billions in investment.
Foreign students bring £8 billion a year to the UK, with total investment set to double by 2025 – although that forecast has been brought into question since students started looking elsewhere for courses due to new restrictions on studying in the UK.
The Higher Education Statistics Agency warned of the largest ever reduction in people applying to study in the UK.
It found the number of Indian students starting at UK universities was down 26% and the number of Pakistani students down 19%.
Critics want foreign students removed from the general immigration figures so the sector can continue to try to attract as many as possible, but government ministers have refused to budge.
The demand from critics broadly correlates with polling data which shows the public is more welcoming of immigration in the form of students of highly skilled international talent.