The government has moved to partially roll back new visa rules that critics claimed would tear couples and families apart.
The move was one of a series of measures aimed at reducing the number of migrants by 300,000 a year.
However, ministers have announced that plans to allow only those earning £38,700 and above to bring their spouses to the UK have been shelved.
Instead, the limit will continue to rise sharply in the spring, to £29,000.
The Lib Dems, who had called the original plans a “family break-up bill”, accused the government of a “half-baked idea” designed to buy off Tory MPs on the right of the party.
The crackdown was part of plans to limit net migration after it jumped to three-quarters of a million in 2022.
Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said: “You have to wonder who is in charge at the Home Office or if anyone is in charge.
“It was clear to everyone else that raising the earnings cap was not feasible. This was another half-thought to appease die-hards at their own tables.
“(Home Secretary) James Smart needs to put down the shovel and stop digging. Decisions like this should be made by experts and politicians working together.
“He will also have to publish the advice of the Treasury and the OBR (Office for Budget Responsibility) on the impact his package of changes will have on the economy.”
A former Tory minister appeared to say the No 10 plans had been shot down by the Treasury. Former health minister Lord Bethel said: “My children are not getting everything they asked for this (Christmas). It seems the same is happening in Downing Street.”
Home Secretary Lord Sharpe of Epsom confirmed in response to a written parliamentary question that the limit would be raised in the spring to £29,000.
The current level is £18,600, meaning 75% of UK workers meet the requirement.
If it rose to £38,700, just 30% would do so, Lord Sharp confirmed.
He added: “The (limit) will be gradually increased to give predictability. In spring 2024, we will raise the limit to £29,000″ before moving to £34,500 and then finally £38,700.
But no date was given for when the limit would rise beyond £29,000.
Mr Smart insisted the Home Office would still cut net legal immigration by 300,000 a year, saying the British people were “rightly disappointed and want to see action”.