The Manchester United centre-half, whose last cap came against Switzerland in June 2011, is among a 26-man squad picked to take on San Marino and Montenegro in Group H.
And Roy Hodgson has given every indication Ferdinand will be back in the side in Serravalle on 22 March.
"A player of Rio's calibre and of Rio's age you don't necessarily bring into the squad as back-up," he said. "You bring them in because you hope they're going to make the team better.
"It wouldn't take too much guesswork to work out that now he's in the squad he's there in order to play, not to make up numbers."
Asked whether he thought Ferdinand could play further games for England, Hodgson said: "I'm sure he could. In the past I've chosen other players. At the moment I think Rio is the right man to help us in these games and probably games ahead but I can't make guarantees for the future.
"If Rio Ferdinand is still playing like he is now in 2014 he's going to be a major candidate for a place in the squad."
Hodgson hopes any potential differences between Ferdinand and Ashley Cole can be resolved after the pair clashed following the John Terry race row.
Hodgson said: "Let's hope (there are no issues) I will cross that bridge when I come to it.
"I would be unhappy, I suppose, if there were tensions between players in a group.
"But we are talking about two very experienced professional players here and we are talking about the England football team. I don't envisage any problems."
Hodgson left the player out of his plans for Euro 2012, citing footballing reasons rather than an ongoing court case involving Ferdinand's brother Anton and Terry.
As recently as February Hodgson responded tetchily to questions about Ferdinand's impressive United form, claiming England had "moved on", but injuries to Phil Jagielka and Phil Jones have forced the manager to rethink.
West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster is also named just days after coming out of international retirement. He will act as back-up to regular No 1 Joe Hart along with Celtic's Fraser Forster.
And Tottenham pair Scott Parker and Michael Dawson have also been called up after long absences - nine months for Parker and almost two years in Dawson's case.
England are away at San Marino on 22 March, four days before they take on current group leaders Montenegro in Podgorica.
Squad: Forster, Foster, Hart, Baines, Cahill, Cole, Dawson, Ferdinand, Johnson, Smalling, Walker, Carrick, Cleverley, Gerrard, Lampard, Lennon, Milner, Osman, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Parker, Walcott, Young, Defoe, Rooney, Sturridge, Welbeck.