Non-EU nationals working in Ireland's health sector have been working 15 and a half hours above the weekly average, according to official figures.

The CSO figures, reproduced in a new report from the Immigrant Council, reveal that between 1998 and 2002, non-EU nationals in the health sector worked 15.6 hours longer per week than the average worker in the area.

The council's chair, Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, said this strengthened the case for permits to be issued to workers rather than to employers.

She suggested this might be done after they had been in the State for three years, which is the practice in other countries.

Speaking at the report's launch, President Mary McAleese said Ireland had always absorbed newcomers through tough times. She questioned why absorption had become problematic here and throughout Europe.

The President said it was proper that governments should struggle with issues like citizenship and resolve them effectively and humanely.