NZ First leader Winston Peters had been suspiciously quiet on immigration until last week.
The party's policy was on its website but scarcely a word was said about it, a stark contrast from previous elections when it was one of NZ First's main campaign planks.
Just as Labour was beginning to think it had quietened the beast with its Immigration Bill - a promise to overhaul immigration processes and provide for tighter border security - Mr Peters popped up in Nelson demanding migrant numbers be cut.
The prompt was the grim economic outlook and forecasts of job losses, and the target was migrants.
Mr Peters called for dramatic cuts from 50,000 a year to 10,000 and for family reunification to be restricted to immediate family only, saying jobs had to be protected for Kiwis.
The Greens called for an increase in migrants, especially refugees, and for space to also be ensured for "climate change refugees" forced out of their countries by rising sea levels.
Despite the dog-whistle style of his politicking, Mr Peters did strike at the heart of what all parties will have to wrestle with in their immigration policies. In a recession, the challenge will lie in adapting immigration policies to suit an environment where jobs are much scarcer from catering to a time of record low unemployment and tight labour market.
All parties support some levels of migration, citing its critical role in growing the economy, filling gaps where New Zealand does not have enough workers and ensuring the population does not shrink.
All also cite the need to ensure policies are targeted at areas where New Zealand is short of workers or skills and want some checks to ensure New Zealanders are not missing out on jobs.
Labour sees the current 50,000 migrants who get residency each year as about right. Helen Clark said last week that any changes to address growing unemployment would be made by cutting the approximately 116,000 short-term work permits issued each year, rather than residency. She notes New Zealand has never been able to produce all the skilled people it needs.
Immigration Minister Clayton Cosgrove has already taken some pre-emptive action in this regard. He split the temporary "general" work permit into two parts to make it easier for highly skilled people to get work permits but putting more checks in on those coming into low-skilled jobs.
He also argues that weighting immigration policy to give preference to those coming into a specific list of jobs where New Zealand has a shortage of workers will ensure only the workers needed are allowed in.
National Party spokesman Lockwood Smith claims the list is too prescriptive, saying it is a "government knows best" approach to deciding which workers are needed rather than one driven by employers who know if they have a skills shortage.
National wants employers to be more able to recruit from overseas if they show they have tried within New Zealand unsuccessfully. He says this will automatically mean immigration numbers will drop in a downturn, because it will be driven by demand rather than a fixed number.
Act wants migrant numbers to grow from net migration of 10,000 a year to 30,000, arguing the entrepreneurial skills of migrants will strengthen the economy.
It notes policy should be targeted at "the ablest and most productive people" and lists their virtues as, among other things, "strengthening the All Blacks".
The Greens have taken the opposite tack to NZ First - pushing for a boost to migrant numbers, especially refugees, with account also taken of the need to plan for "environment refugees" forced to leave their land by rising sea levels.
National also wants to make changes to the business and investor rules, accusing Labour of using criteria that put off a potential goldmine that could provide extra jobs as well as add to the economy.
The Association for Migration and Investment and Business NZ have both said the stricter rules have killed the flow of investment, and that those that applied to Australia, the United States and Canada were more flexible.
Mr Cosgrove said it was too early to tell whether another set of changes setting up a three-tier system had made a difference. He said Labour took a "quality over quantity approach" to ensure potential investors actively used their money, rather than leaving it idly in a bank account while they took advantage of New Zealand's free education and health systems.
Since the last election other bones of contention in immigration have been somewhat neutralised. The Immigration Advisers Act will require agents to be licensed from May next year, a step aimed at preventing scams that have caused headlines in the past, such as false job offers.
The Immigration Bill is awaiting its final stages and has wide support, including from National, which will pass it if it leads the next government.
The bill completely revamps the old framework law from 1987 and was a condition of New Zealand First's agreement with Labour. It simplifies processes, including amalgamating the four current appeals bodies into one immigration tribunal.
It also allows for more security tools in accord with international measures - including allowing for the use of biometric information to help reduce document forgery or identity theft, more search powers, and for the wider use of classified information in immigration decisions.
One remaining quibbling point between the parties is the Immigration Service, which has been rocked by a series of scandals, from the handling of Ahmed Zaoui's case, to Mr Peters' revelation of people in New Zealand who were associated with Saddam Hussein's regime and publicity over "cash for job offer" scams.
More recently, there was the spate of reviews and inquiries prompted by the service's former head Mary Anne Thompson, who resigned after she helped family members to enter New Zealand without fully disclosing her assistance to her boss.
These have led to calls for a clean-out of the service and for it to be more directly accountable. National wants a full review and is considering setting it up as a stand-alone body rather than part of the Department of Labour.
Mr Cosgrove says the service is already working to sort out problems and has undertaken to take any recommendations from the reviews seriously.
He says the value of keeping Immigration NZ within the Department of Labour is to share administrative resources as well as provide for easier sharing of information on where gaps in the workforce are for making immigration policy decisions.
* Immigration now:
About 50,000 migrants are given residency every year.
60 per cent are in the "skilled migrants" or business categories, 30 per cent are family sponsored and 10 per cent are humanitarian cases.
Department of Labour report says migrants made a net fiscal contribution of $3.3 billion in the year ending June 2006.
Last year, the highest proportion of new residents came from Britain (26 per cent), China (12) and India (9).
New Zealand takes 750 refugees each year, plus 300 family members under the "family reunification" quota.More than 105,000 people have been given residency under the skilled migrant category since it was introduced in 2003. It is designed to give priority to those working in areas in which NZ has a labour shortage.
Each year, 5000 to 10,000 more people enter New Zealand long-term than leave it, including new migrants and New Zealanders returning home.
Last year, about 83,000 arrived and 73,000 left.
About 116,000 people got temporary work permits last year.
Up to 5000 workers from mainly Pacific Island nations now come in each year for seasonal employment.
New legislation requires local immigration advisers to be licensed from May next year and overseas advisers to be licensed from May 2010 to help prevent "scams" such as false job offers or "cash for jobs".