House Speaker shuts down internship program, citing allegations of exploitation

House Speaker shuts down internship program, citing allegations of exploitation
The House has shut down an internship program amid allegations students were being exploited. (Image: Hawaii News Now)

EAST HONOLULU, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - House Speaker Scott Saiki has canceled a capital internship program for students from China amid allegations that some of the students were being exploited.

The program is supposed to be part of a cultural exchange, but Saiki said he was concerns that the internships were for sale.

"It is unsettling that private foreign entities are monetarily profiting from … the goodwill of individual members and the Legislature," Saiki wrote, in a May 8 memo to House members.

Rep. Matt LoPresti, who blew the whistle on the program, hosted three interns.

He said he found out that one of them, a 16-year-old girl, wasn't even being fed by her hosts.

"I think the students were mistreated. I think they were lied to. I think they taken advantage of and it certainly seemed unusual and suspicious on how this was going down," he said.

Each of the students and their parents pay $5,000 to $6,000 to a placement firm in China to spend two weeks shadowing lawmakers and learning about Hawaii's legislative process.

LoPresti said a certificate or letter of recommendation the interns get at the end of their internship can help them get into good college in China or even get a job.

Hawaii Realtor Haotian Bai, who was hired by the Chinese placement firms to arrange several of these internships, denied the students were being exploited.

He said that of the $5,000 that the interns paid, $1,500 went toward housing. He said students are supposed to pay for their own meals.

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