Permanent-Resident PhD Struggles to Explain Resume Gap

Reena writes:
I got my PhD degree in microbiology a year ago. Since I am an
international scholar I had to wait for my immigration papers to get
processed for my permanent-resident status (that I got through marriage
to an American citizen) for a year. I was not legally allowed to work (earn
any money) for a year. Now that I have got my permanent-resident
status I have started sending out job applications and I keep getting
asked what work I did for a year since I got my PhD. I did do some
volunteer work off and on during my year off and I also did a lot of traveling.
Do I need to explain my year off in the applications that I send out?
How do I explain it? I am just afraid that potential employers will not
understand this explanation since none of them had to go through
this themselves (some of them are really rude when they demand
an explanation).

The Career Doctor responds:
While yours is a very specific question I include it in the blog because
there are some lessons here that all job-seekers should learn.
Employers want to hire productive employees and so any unexplained
gaps on a resume or CV send out a large caution flag to hiring managers.
As a job-seeker your goal is to show that you were productive during any
and all gaps — pursing further education or credentials volunteering or
freelancing in some way staying active in your career field.
In your situation newly minted PhDs are supposed to be at one of their
most productive peaks so appearing to take a year off of research would
be very worrisome to prospective employers who want to hire a research
workhorse. And those that don’t go to work right after the degree often
to some post-doctoral work.
I would avoid the whole immigration issue — mainly because employers
never want to hear complications… they simply want workers who will
show and work.
So I think you do need to show that you were somehow working during
that year… perhaps through the volunteering perhaps through some
pending research or publications.