We introduce ‘model migration’ as a species of cross-disciplinary knowledge transfer whereby the representational function of a model is radically changed to allow application to a new disciplinary context. Controversies and confusions that often derive from this phenomenon will be illustrated in the context of econophysics and phylogeographic linguistics. Migration can be usefully contrasted with concept of ‘imperialism’, that has been influentially discussed in the context of geographical economics. In particular, imperialism, unlike migration, relies upon extension of the original model via an expansion of the domain of phenomena it is taken to adequately described. The success of imperialism thus requires expansion of the justificatory sanctioning of the original idealising assumptions to a new disciplinary context. Contrastingly, successful migration involves the radical representational re-interpretation of the original model, rather than its extension. Migration thus requires ’re-sanctioning’ of new ‘counterpart idealisations’ to allow application to an entirely different class of phenomena. Whereas legitimate scientific imperialism should be based on the pursuit of some form of ontological unification, no such requirement is need to legitimate the practice of model migration. The distinction between migration and imperialism will thus be shown to have significant normative as well as descriptive value.