Britain is struggling to attract some of the world's top business talent because of tough new immigration rules, undermining hopes of economic recovery, the Prime Minister has been warned.
Lawyers have protested to David Cameron that the drive to slash rates of immigration could deter international leaders of business and finance from moving to the UK.
They said there were already cases of multinational firms scrapping investment plans as they abandon attempts to bring specialist staff to the City of London.
The critics expressed their fears at a meeting in Downing Street. Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, shares their concerns that efforts to portray Britain to the world as open for business have been undermined.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has brought in changes to the scheme that allows companies to transfer overseas employees to postings in Britain.
Foreign workers now have to spend a year outside the UK if they want to switch between temporary and permanent visas, meaning staff cannot be given a permanent posting at the end of their stay. British companies would have to wait a year before they could hire high-fliers transferred short-term to the UK by other firms.
The move, which came into force last month, was designed to stop IT companies using "intra-company transfers" as a back-door way of obtaining work visas. It is among measures to reduce net migration by 2015.
Yesterday Ms May insisted there was no conflict between attracting business leaders to Britain and reducing immigration overall.
But Nichola Carter, head of immigration at Penningtons solicitors, said: "The Government seems to be oblivious about the damage to the economy – it's all about numbers."
Julia Onslow-Cole, head of global immigration at PricewaterhouseCoopers Legal, said she had already encountered a case of Britain losing out on substantial investment because of the restriction. "There are countries in the world with immense economic growth like Singapore. They are relaxing immigration laws for these senior managers."
A UK Border Agency spokesman said: "The cooling-off period is designed to prevent intra-company transfers becoming a loophole in our limit on economic migration."