Students should be excluded from the Government's immigration target, according to a think-tank.
The Institute for Public Policy Research said the number of students coming to the UK is falling in part because of efforts to cut net migration to the tens of thousands.
It called for ministers to split the net migration target into individual components, such as workers and family migrants, and set aims for each flow.
Students should be classed as temporary rather than permanent migrants, and should not be subject to a target, according to the IPPR.
The think-tank also claimed data suggests the Government could be relying on an overestimate of the number of non-EU students who stay on in the UK after completing their studies to inform policy.
Its report said: "This means that Government policy could be focused on driving out tens of thousands of people who may no longer be in the UK. The estimate the Government uses is not reliable enough to guide policy."
Marley Morris, research fellow at the IPPR, said: "Our research suggests that many of the students they are targeting may be phantom students who are no longer in the country.
"Following the Brexit vote the Government should be doing all it can to secure investment in the UK.
"But its current self-destructive policy is deterring genuine international students and putting the billions they bring to the UK at real risk."
The IPPR also recommended that the Government draw up a 10-year plan for expanding the international education sector, and appoint a minister for international education.
Figures released last month showed that, in the year ending in March, long-term immigration to the UK for study fell to the lowest estimated level since 2007.
A Home Office spokesman said: "We continue to welcome the brightest and best to our world-class institutions.
"We are also committed to bringing net migration down to sustainable levels as soon as possible and are looking at all visa routes as part of that work."