Having spent her entire working life in Hong Kong, it is not surprising Elizabeth Thomson feels a part of the community. But recently, the Canadian-born owner of a taxation consultancy has begun wondering whether she will always feel at home in Hong Kong. 'I hope an 'us' and 'you' attitude won't come up - a sort of motherland-homeland thing that we are Chinese and you are not,' she says. 'I hope a situation won't come up when I would consider it intolerable to live or do business [here].' Despite Hong Kong's reputation as an international hub, where many shops, restaurants and department stores cater for English-speaking customers, Ms Thomson worries that she and other non-Chinese residents may not continue to enjoy the respect of Hong Kongers. Her worries are not totally unfounded. At recent social functions, she was upset by people referring to those present who were not ethnically Chinese as 'foreigners'. 'I've been here 20 years. I don't consider myself a foreigner here,' she says. 'I own my own home, my own business and I employ 40 people.' Ms Thomson, who joined in the handover-related celebrations, adds: 'I don't think I'd want to stay here if I start to feel like an outsider rather than a belonger.' As a former chairperson of the Women Business Owners' Club, she is rightly concerned about the prospects of owners of small and medium-sized businesses hiring the staff they need. A triggering factor was her recent, frustrating battle with the Immigration Department over her attempt to hire an Australian woman to be a marketing executive for her booming business. 'They kept saying no, quoting books and statistics to me about people in Hong Kong who are graduating who can do the job. But we discovered that people who responded to our ads either had no practical experience or were unable to draft in English. 'We needed someone who could communicate with our international clientele,' Ms Thomson says. She persisted, until the department decided to consider the application 'out of the blue'. After almost a year, immigration officials finally approved the Australian woman's application, but by that time she had decided not to come. 'I don't think it is good for Hong Kong for people to think it is more politically correct to hire 'Chinese-looking people',' she says, describing her eventual success as a hollow victory. 'It's frustrating that you have no idea what the rules are and are just guessing all the time. The Immigration Department should at least come clean and say what the rules are in relation to hiring from abroad.' Another troubling fact is that well-qualified university graduates are more drawn these days to well-known companies or multi-nationals. 'The contribution of anyone to the growth of Hong Kong, like that of entrepreneurs who have been its lifeblood, should be recognised,' she says. Another long-time resident in Hong Kong, Briton Christopher Homfray, has a more relaxed view of the future. The senior vice-president of a public relations consultancy invited about 20 colleagues for an 'end of Empire' luncheon at the quintessentially British eatery, Harry Ramsden's, which is famous for its fish 'n' chips. 'My idea was to have a game in which everyone was asked to think about good and bad things about the Chinese and the British,' Mr Homfray says. Married to a Cantonese and capable of speaking the local dialect, he says the only aspect of the handover that worries him is the future of his children's education. 'I am concerned whether my children will be taught the same values in schools - whether there will be a different interpretation of Hong Kong history by schools.' Will his children be taught to regard the British as enemies, he asks? While it may be too much to expect a radical change in sentiment, it is not surprising that many cannot help wondering about possible changes to schooling. Ms Thomson says she worries about mainland children flooding into the international schools her two children - one eight, the other five - attend. More specifically, she is concerned about the possible emergence of a clique culture in schools. The Canadian International School has replaced its Cantonese programme with Putonghua. From September, its entire student population will be given classes in the language. Only senior students will be able to choose between learning Putonghua and other languages such as French. Head teacher for the school's Chinese Studies Programme, Sarah Lu, maintains the change has been prompted mainly by the increased importance of Putonghua in Hong Kong and on the world stage. As more Chinese professionals are being recruited to work in the SAR, integration of their children into Hong Kong's school system may become an issue. The future job market is perhaps another natural concern for those living in Hong Kong with or without children, although an encouraging number of expatriate professionals contacted by the South China Morning Post say they expect their work to continue as usual. Paul Curley, managing director of Q3 Associates, says he felt a sense of wistfulness among his expatriate clients in the closing days of British rule over Hong Kong. 'They may be worried about the disappearance of a set of rules they are more culturally attuned to,' says Mr Curley, whose company specialises in placing laid-off senior executives. 'The employment market is placing more emphasis on cultural understanding for Asia, Asian language skills,' he says. 'This is making it more difficult for expatriates to maintain their economic position or push it forward.' While racial discrimination is not widely seen as an issue in Hong Kong - and in fact white-collar expatriates traditionally have enjoyed more privileged work contracts than their local counterparts - there are fears biased policies may creep into hiring practices. The Government and the corporate sector have already carried out localisation policies and senior governmental staff and employees of multi-nationals are being encouraged to take Putonghua lessons. But the common view is that there will not be a significant drop in demand for foreign workers post-handover. People with international experience will remain an important asset to many employers, although competition for coveted jobs has been and will continue to be stiff. Ethnic minorities who are determined to remain in Hong Kong do not foresee difficulties arising after the handover, according to Kishore Arcani, chairman of the Indian Resources Group. He says the Indian community and other ethnic groups are unique among the non-Chinese population in that they have been in Hong Kong for a long time and have long considered it their home. 'Many of us speak Cantonese, do business with Cantonese,' he says. 'We don't expect a hostile environment ahead.' Nevertheless, he reiterated his support for anti-racial discrimination legislation. 'This can help create a tone in the community for people to know when certain kinds of behaviour are not acceptable.' Veteran banking professional Neil Hockaday staunchly believes that as a truly international centre, Hong Kong will remain a diverse society, a magnet for highly skilled people. But he sees his role here as only a temporary one; the time will come when someone, either a local or an expatriate, is roped in to take his place. 'The advantage of having me here is I can bring in skills, knowledge in technology that I acquired overseas, but my skills would decline over time,' says the 48-year-old senior manager at Hongkong Bank's card products division. The amiable man enjoys a close relationship with his staff. Having worked in the United States and Europe, he sees the change of sovereignty as a challenge. His vast team comprising people with different language skills may not want to see him leave. 'Hong Kong people are used to working under expats,' says William Hoa Hui-bon, a Vietnamese-Chinese who works under Mr Hockaday. 'They tend to be more forthright than Chinese bosses and have less of a hidden agenda.' Here for six years, Robin Pollack, business manager at Amoco Chemical (Asia Pacific) is as positive as Mr Hockaday, taking pride in being part of a global, though transient workforce. 'I know I'll move to other parts of the world, probably by next year when my part with a chemical plant in south China is wrapped up,' she says. 'But I definitely would learn Mandarin if I had the time, and was staying behind in Hong Kong. You'd get a lot of points doing business in China.' Still, regardless of the unprecedented rise in patriotism, many people are confident Hong Kong will remain an open, racially tolerant society. Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Chinese University, Gordon Mathews, says: 'Hong Kong has been not ethnically conscious. 'There are two possibilities ahead, one being a surge in the feeling of Chineseness and the other continual emphasis on Hong Kong being or becoming even more international. But it is dangerous to predict.'