Philippine President Fidel Ramos is ready to hold talks with Hong Kong over a possible amnesty for the estimated 20,000 Filipino maids working illegally in the territory. 'Certainly we can negotiate,' said Mr Ramos, who pointed to an agreement reached with South Korea. The Philippine Consulate-General has called for an amnesty to allow the helpers, who currently fear being jailed if they turn themselves in, to return home. But the Immigration Department says it will not enter into any deals. 'Our policy is to bring every overseas worker back to the Philippines, especially those in the unskilled or semi-skilled category,' Mr Ramos said during a one-day visit to the territory yesterday. He said the Philippines would co-operate with Hong Kong to ensure 'nobody gets hurt, nobody gets surprised'. Filipino welfare agencies have said the number of helpers remaining after their visas expire has increased. Mr Ramos said the Hong Kong Government had not yet raised the issue of overstayers and he was sure the post-handover administration would alert Manila should it become a problem. The President forecast a drop in the number of domestic helpers from his country working in Hong Kong as conditions improved for graduates at home. Mr Ramos hoped the improving Philippine economy and wage increases for teachers would lure back workers and discourage more from venturing abroad. 'Many of the workers here who serve as household helps are really graduate teachers who earn more here than they were earning when they first came to Hong Kong. But now we have doubled the salaries of public school teachers.' He repeated assurances given by senior Chinese officials, from President Jiang Zemin down, that conditions would not change for foreign labourers after the handover. He was responding to concerns that domestic workers from the mainland would replace the 135,000 Filipinos currently in Hong Kong.