Ministers have “taken their eye off the ball” over levels of immigration to the UK from outside the EU, campaigners claim.
Migration Watch UK accused the Government of being “asleep at the switch” and called for a raft of new curbs on visa routes.
Last week official figures revealed that non-EU net migration was running at an estimated 235,000 in the year to March – the highest since 2004.
In contrast, EU net migration fell to around 87,000, its lowest level for more than five years – sparking fresh claims of a post-referendum “Brexodus”.
While EU migrants can come to the UK under free movement rules, non-EU immigration is subject to Government controls.
Lord Green of Deddington, chairman of Migration Watch UK, said: “So why has non-EU migration risen while much of the focus is on EU migration and Brexit?
“The answer is that the Government have taken their eye off the ball, indeed they have been asleep at the switch.
“Nearly three-quarters of non-British net migration comes from outside the EU yet they are doing nothing about reducing it.
“It is high time that the new Home Secretary got into gear.”
In a report published today, Migration Watch calls for a “major tightening” of non-EU routes.
Its proposals include raising English language and earnings requirements in the skilled work and family schemes, as well as “more rigorous” interviews for student visa applications.
The body, which campaigns for stricter immigration controls, also said a renewed effort is needed to tackle people-smuggling and clandestine entry, and to remove failed asylum seekers, over-stayers and foreign national offenders from the UK.
It recommended mandatory checks on the immigration status of suspects after they are arrested by police, and a “substantial” increase in Border Force resources.
Overall, the balance between immigration and emigration was around 271,000 in 2017/18.
This is below record levels seen around 2015 and 2016, but still almost three times the Tories’ net migration target of less than 100,000.
One expert argued that Migration Watch’s proposals would be “economically damaging”.
Jonathan Portes, professor of economics at King’s College London, said: “The economic evidence that skilled migration and students from outside the EU benefit the UK economy is strong.
“So Migration Watch’s proposals to reduce such immigration will damage the UK economy, business and public services.
“At a time when Brexit is making the UK less attractive to EU nationals, this is the last thing the UK economy and business needs.”
Immigration minister Caroline Nokes said: “We have been clear that we will always be open to those who bring valuable skills, experience and investment to the UK and our economy.
“The latest net migration statistics from ONS (Office for National Statistics) show that we are continuing to increase our appeal to world-class talent. At the same time, they show that net migration has fallen from its peak levels.
“But we know there is more to do if we are to meet our aim of reducing net migration to sustainable levels.
“We keep all immigration routes under review and will continue to reform visa routes from outside Europe as we build an immigration system that works in the best interests of the country.”