A survey of more than 500 overseas students across 105 institutions showed 52% had a negative perception of the attempts to cut migration numbers. Almost half of North American students in the UK shared this concern.
Universities have campaigned to have students counted separately from headline migration figures.
Business Secretary Vince Cable recently said that the UK´s "torrid" debate on immigration risked damaging the economically valuable recruitment of overseas students.
The survey of attitudes of overseas students in the UK, commissioned by Regent´s University in London, shows a contrasting picture.
While students feel that migration targets have made them feel less welcome, they have a positive account of their experience in the UK.
About four in five of the students backed the quality of their courses and teaching and almost nine in 10 would recommend studying in the UK.
There is also a distinction between the public drive to reduce migrant numbers and their private experience of people in the UK, with almost nine in 10 saying that they felt welcome.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that international students make a "huge contribution" to the UK and emphasised that "there is no cap on the number of legitimate overseas students.
The survey found that 40% of overseas students "mainly spend time" with other students from their country and about one in five admitted feeling "isolated".