TOKYO — Nearly 20 years after Japan first allowed in immigrant workers, many of them still face discrimination as the government has failed to protect their rights, a UN official said Wednesday.

UN Special Rapporteur Jorge Bustamante said immigrants are often exploited in Japan as cheap labor and discriminated in terms of salary, promotion, health care and compensation for accidents at work. Their children are often left out of the local school system, he said.

"Many challenges still need to be addressed by the government in order to protect the human rights of migrants and their children," Bustamante said at the end of a nine-day visit to investigate immigrant conditions.

He urged Japan to take steps to integrate migrants into society and adopt legislation to eliminate rights violations against them.

"Racism and discrimination based on nationality are still too common in Japan, including in the workplace, in schools, in health care establishments and housing," he said.

Bustamante said he will report his findings to the United Nations' Human Rights Council later this year.

Japan's Justice Ministry said it had no immediate comment.

In the early 1990s, Tokyo relaxed its tight immigration laws to allow special entry permits for foreigners of Japanese ancestry, mostly from South America, to fill a labor shortage at then-booming factories, taking jobs largely shunned by Japanese. The immigrants, mostly from Brazil and Peru, are culturally distinct and not always fluent in Japanese.

Bustamante also alleged some companies exploit a government-funded industrial training program by using interns from developing countries as cheap labor that "in some cases, may well amount to slavery."

Under the program, Japan accepts interns from more than a dozen countries for up to three years. Japan last year accepted some 50,000 interns, mostly from China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Bustamante said the training program should be replaced by an employment program. (AP)