Post Occupy Central syndrome? Disappointing government? Or as student leader Joshua Wong described the disillusionment felt by some after two decades under Chinese rule: “One country, 1.5 systems”?

Perhaps they can all at least partly explain why about 7,600 Hongkongers sought to leave Hong Kong last year in search of greener, cleaner pastures.

About 2,800, or 36% of the total, wanted to go to the United States, a five-year high, according to data released by Hong Kong’s Public Security Bureau. The number was an estimate based on applications to the police for certificates showing no criminal convictions. Australia ranked second with 2,100, a number that has held steady over the past five years.

Surprisingly the number of immigrants wanting to move to Taiwan surpassed those headed for Canada: both broke the 1,000 level with an increase of about 20%.

Hong Kong may well be a different city today than it was on the dawn of its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. But many expats would still tell you that it remains a vibrant, convenient place to live and that they intend to stay on to qualify for permanent residency status granted after seven years in the city.

Perhaps the biggest push factors are not political but economic and social.

Affordability rules the day. It goes without saying it is getting more expensive to live in Hong Kong – and by far the biggest reason for that is the high land prices.

No one feels more keenly than Hong Kong people the meaning behind Mark Dinning’s song “The world is getting smaller.” Every week it seems there are stories in the media telling us ever more creative ways that people can live in ever smaller spaces.

So even though Hong Kong has the highest concentration of US dollar millionaires in the world, being in that club doesn’t mean so much when a new one-bedroom apartment can cost more than US$1.2 million.

A local family of three with a US$1 million nest egg will be much better off in the US, Sydney, Vancouver or Toronto.

Read: Hong Kong buyers make London No1 property market

Ditto for the tier-one cities in Sydney, Vancouver or Toronto. Taipei homes can be had for about one-third of Hong Kong’s prices.

So why stay in Hong Kong?

Of course, lifestyle is a big thing, but not everything. People make their country calls based on their employment, family, education, medical and other needs.

In this regard, the US is still the top choice for many Hong Kong people, as shown in the immigration figures.

It is worth pointing out that quite a few of our flyaway Hong Kong residents had first emigrated from China. They’re now leaving for the US as a further step to shift assets away from their homeland.

After all, the US still has one of the cheapest immigration programs, with the EB-5 investment visa starting as low as US$500,000.