Hours later, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the president is committed to increasing the cap without specifying a number.
"It sends an important message to make it higher and now Biden will still be presiding over and has essentially put his stamp of approval on the lowest refugee admissions cap in history at time of global crisis", said Mark Hetfield, president of HIAS, a Maryland-based Jewish nonprofit that is one of nine agencies that resettles refugees in the US.
While finalizing that determination, the President was urged to take immediate action to reverse the Trump policy that banned refugees from many key regions, to enable flights from those regions to begin within days; today's order did that.
President Joe Biden announced Friday his administration would be keeping in place the refugee cap implemented under his Republican predecessor at 15,000 people.
Many were surprised Biden did not replace the cap by former President Donald Trump, having submitted a plan to Congress two months ago to quadruple that number.
President Joe Biden's apparent retention of the refugee cap set by former President Donald Trump has halted the admission of "vetted refugees now waiting in the system", according to a senior Senate Democrat.
Biden has pledged to raise the refugee cap for the next fiscal year to 125,000 and signalled he would try to make a "down payment" on that this year, but acknowledged it wouldn't be easy.
Biden's determination stated that the admission of up to 15,000 refugees this year "remains justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest".
"These are two completely distinct pathways and programs", said Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. Advocates did say that changing the Trump-era allocations could allow for a wider group of refugees to be reconsidered for resettlement.
Since the fiscal year began on October 1, just over 2,000 refugees have been resettled in the U.S.
The move was deeply unpopular among congressional Democrats. "If the current pace of admissions continues - and if the Trump administration's admissions policies remain in place - the Biden administration will admit an estimated 4,510 refugees in FY21, less than half of the past year of the Trump administration and fewer than any President in history".
The White House has walked back an earlier announcement that it will keep the refugee ceiling of 15,000 set by the Trump administration following a widespread backlash.
The reversal on Biden's promise to welcome in thousands of families fleeing war and religious persecution signals the president's hesitant approach to rebuilding an immigration system gutted by his successor.
During a news conference on Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also urged Biden to increase the number of refugees admitted into the United States while defending the Biden administration's response to the surge of migrants at the US's border with Mexico.
Pramila Jayapal, the co-chair of the White House Caucus, had denounced the White House on Friday after its initial decision to keep the refugee cap at 15,000.
Even close allies to the president, including Senator Dick Durbin, had criticised the move. "But to many refugees today, that light became a flicker". This breaks with an earlier pledge made by the Biden administration to raise admission.
"Thank God", Omar wrote on Twitter in response to the news.
The move comes after Biden signed an executive order pledging to dramatically increase the number of refugees admitted in the 2022 fiscal year, which begins on October 1, 2021, to 125,000.
In March, at least 172,000 migrants were stopped at the US-Mexico border - the most in 20 years - and many were unaccompanied children.